Federal Court Declines to Halt “Matching Funds” In Arizona Taxpayer-funded Elections Scheme

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 14, 2008

Arlington, Va.—A federal court today declined a request by candidates and independent groups to halt the “matching funds” provision of Arizona’s Clean Elections system for this election, even after finding in an earlier order that the scheme violates First Amendment rights. Judge Roslyn O. Silver denied motions for a preliminary injunction and said that supporting findings of fact and conclusions of law will follow no later than this Friday, October 17.

“It’s disappointing that the court refused to put an end to a clear violation of First Amendment rights,” said Institute for Justice attorney Bill Maurer. “For too long, Arizona’s unconstitutional Clean Elections scheme has muzzled the speech of candidates and independent groups and tilted the playing field toward those who accept taxpayer dollars for their political campaigns. Arizona campaigns should be run like most political efforts throughout the country and throughout American history—with funds willingly donated by citizens and without government putting its finger on the scales.”

A preliminary injunction would have halted matching funds payments for the rest of this election, while freeing publicly funded candidates to raise funds using voluntary donations. It would have also enabled candidates funded by taxpayers to keep money already disbursed. According to recent campaign finance reports, a majority of taxpayer-funded candidates are well ahead of their traditionally funded opponents, suggesting they would have been set back little by an injunction.

The next step in the case will be a trial on the merits to determine whether matching funds should be ended permanently for future elections.

In the case, McComish v. Brewer, IJ represents state Rep. Rick Murphy and state Sen. Robert Burns, as well as Arizona State Treasurer Dean Martin, the Freedom Club PAC and the Arizona Taxpayers Action Committee.

The plight of Rep. Murphy illustrates how matching funds chill speech. Murphy has three taxpayer-funded opponents in the general election, so for every dollar he raises to spend on his own speech, his opponents receive three additional dollars in taxpayer funds to counter his speech.

As Judge Silver explained in an August 29 order, for candidates funded by voluntary donations like Murphy, the matching funds provisions cause “irreparable injury both through the dispensation of funds that will be used to oppose them and through the mere fact that their speech is burdened.”

“There is no constitutional reason to continue suppressing the First Amendment rights of candidates, citizens and independent groups,” said Maurer. “We look forward to ultimately vindicating their rights as this case proceeds.”

Read more information about Arizona’s Clean Elections system.