In a story entitled, “High Court Takes Another Stab At Campaign Finance,” NPR’s Nina Totenberg gives a nice explanation of the clean-election case argued before the Supreme Court on Monday. The introduction:
Last year, the high court, by a 5-4 vote, overturned a century-old legal understanding that barred corporations from spending money on candidate elections.
Now comes an attack from a different direction — a challenge to a public financing system that has existed in Arizona for more than a decade. Once again, reform advocates face an uphill battle.
At issue is one provision of the Arizona Citizens Clean Election Act:
In order to spread limited public resources as far as possible, and to ensure competitive elections, the law gives participating candidates a relatively small base amount of money, and it provides additional funding to candidates whose privately funded opponents spend significantly more.
The law’s challengers argue that
the Arizona system is rigged to suppress speech, forcing privately funded candidates to effectively silence themselves by putting off spending until late in the campaign in order to avoid triggering more money for their opponents.
while its defenders assert that
the law is a success, a system that “combats corruption and promotes free speech,” [and] that by 2008, two-thirds of all primary and general election candidates for state office accepted public funding in place of private funds.
Ominously, Totenberg notes:
Last summer, after a federal appeals court upheld it, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of blocking the state law in the middle of an election campaign.
If the court strikes down the Arizona law as a violation of the free speech rights of privately funded candidates, the decision could have ramifications for other public financing systems across the country.