Federal Court to Decide on Expedited Schedule Whether to Halt Arizona Clean Elections System

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · September 3, 2008

Arlington, Va.—Judge Roslyn O. Silver of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona today agreed to set an accelerated schedule to hear arguments in a First Amendment challenge to Arizona’s so-called “Clean Elections” system, one of the nation’s most far reaching systems of taxpayer funding for campaigns. She also added to the case candidates and independent groups represented by the Institute for Justice in a long-standing challenge to the scheme, as well as two candidates in this year’s election who fear their speech will be drowned out by taxpayer dollars handed to their opponents.

“For nearly a decade, Arizona’s taxpayer-funded elections scheme has muzzled free speech and tilted the electoral playing field toward those who run their political campaigns on taxpayer dollars,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter. “It is past time to bring this failed experiment to an end, and quickly putting the interests of all parties before one court is the best way to do that.”

The parties have until Friday morning to set a schedule for the case to proceed. A hearing is expected in late September or early October on whether to grant a preliminary injunction that would suspend Arizona’s “matching funds” payments for the general election in November. These payments are the cornerstone of Arizona’s system of funding political candidates with taxpayer money—and, as Judge Silver recognized in an order last week, they have an unconstitutional chilling effect on candidates who refuse taxpayer funds and instead run their campaigns with voluntary contributions.

IJ client and state Rep. Rick Murphy, for example, faces three publicly funded candidates in the general election. So for every dollar he raises to spend on his own speech above a government limit, his opposition gets three. For candidates like Murphy who shun government handouts, the best bet is to simply stop talking to voters.

Similarly, independent groups like the Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC and the Arizona Taxpayers Action Committee, are best served sitting on the sidelines if the candidate they support faces a taxpayer-funded opponent. That is because their speech triggers more government money for the candidate they oppose.

“The dirty little secret of Arizona’s elections scheme is that it is designed to limit speech,” said William R. Maurer, executive director of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter and co-counsel in the case. “But in a free society, the government has no business micromanaging how citizens debate, of all things, who should run the government.”

IJ represents Murphy, the Freedom Club PAC, the Arizona Taxpayers Action Committee, state Sen. Robert Burns, and Arizona State Treasurer Dean Martin. The case is McComish v. Brewer, filed on August 22 by the Goldwater Institute. For more information about Arizona’s Clean Elections system, visit: https://www.ij.org/index.php? option=com_content&task=view&id=1227&Itemid=165.