Institute for Justice Asks Arizona Supreme Court to Stop Disbursement of Illegally Collected Clean Elections Funds

John Kramer
John Kramer · May 6, 2008

Phoenix, AZ—One week after a landmark ruling overturning the prime funding mechanism for Arizona’s taxpayer-subsidized campaigns, the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter asked the Arizona Supreme Court to bar the Clean Elections Commission from distributing the funds illegally collected under the Clean Elections Act.

“Last week’s decision was a major victory for freedom of speech,” declared Clint Bolick, vice president of the Institute for Justice, whose Arizona Chapter has litigated the case. “But the funds must be preserved pending the State’s appeal or the Arizonans whose rights the Commission trampled will suffer irreparable harm.”

The state Appeals Court’s unanimous ruling struck down a 10-percent surcharge on criminal and civil fines, including parking tickets, which last year represented 69 percent of the fund’s $16 million revenues. An earlier ruling invalidated lobbyist fees for the same purpose, and the Clean Elections Commission is refunding up to $400,000 in wrongfully collected lobbyist fees.

The Court ruled that the involuntary fees represent “an unconstitutional restraint on the exercise of free speech.” The Court enjoined the Commission from collecting further fees, but two days later stayed their own decision at the request of the Commission, which has been depleting the illegally collected funds at a rate of more than $100,000 per day.

“We are disappointed that the very Court that recognized the unconstitutional conduct by the Commission has allowed it to continue,” said Tom Liddy, executive director for the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter. “We look to the Supreme Court to preserve the unconstitutionally collected funds until it decides whether to review the case. The First Amendment violation comes not merely from collecting the money, but from handing it over to politicians.”

The Institute represents Representative Steve May, who objected to the use of his parking ticket fees for candidates he does not support.