Supreme Court strikes another blow against fair elections

Today the US Supreme  Court struck down an Arizona law that provided matching funds to publicly financed candidates outspent by privately financed opponents:

The majority’s rationale was that the law violated the First Amendment rights of candidates who raise private money. Such candidates, the majority said, may be reluctant to spend money to speak if they know that it will give rise to counter-speech paid for by the government.

The Court left public financing of campaigns battered but still standing:

Supporters of the law said the decision could have been worse. “Chief Justice Roberts at least recognized that public financing is a valid constitutional option,” said Monica Youn, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, which represented one of the defendants in the case.

All that the minority had going for it was logic:

In a dissent summarized from the bench, Justice Elena Kagan said the Arizona law advanced First Amendment values.

“What the law does — all the law does — is fund more speech,” she wrote. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined the dissent.

“Arizona, remember, offers to support any person running for state office,” Justice Kagan wrote. The candidates and groups that challenged the law declined to accept that help, she said.

“So they are making a novel argument: that Arizona violated their First Amendment rights by disbursing funds to other speakers even though they could have received (but chose to spurn) the same financial assistance,” Justice Kagan wrote. “Some people might call that chutzpah.”

For the Court’s right-wing majority, logic has no standing against the need to protect the natural, rightful advantage of deep-pocketed candidates over their publicly funded opponents.

About Hamilton Richards

He retired in 2006 as a Senior Lecturer in Computer Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. These days he volunteers technical support for Citizens' Climate Lobby (Austin chapter), Common Ground for Texans, (, Integrity Texas (, Austin Rowing Club, and several friends.
This entry was posted in Clean Elections, Judicial election campaigns, Money in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Supreme Court strikes another blow against fair elections

  1. Stewart Snider says:

    There’s a fairly significant silver lining to this cloud. SCOTUS could have nixed the whole concept of citizen-financing with this one, while they had the chance. Of course, the strategy may be to kill this a little at a time… We’ll need to pay attention to other cases about campaign finance that reach them.

    Kagan’s comments are great, but perhaps don’t go far enough. If public money can suppress free speech (as 5 justices seem to believe), why can’t private money also create that problem? What if I wanted to support someone running against Lamar Smith for Congress, but decided not to contribute because of his multi-million-dollar war chest that came from private special interests?

    If special interest money had a case against Clean Elections in AZ, don’t I have a case against all of Smith’s supporters?

    • Sharon Kettelhut says:

      I’m not sure how this would have given the Supremes the opportunity to strike down public financing. But, it could bankrupt the entire system of public financing if we had to match deep pocket for deep pocket. Better to somehow cap the amount that could be spent, provide free airtime to candidates over our “public airways”, cut off “politicking” two weeks prior to an election, etc, etc. None of which will fly thanks to those with the deep pockets. Need instead to hold candidates’ feet to the fire by countering lies and generalities with the truth. I love Politifact!

  2. Michael Ryan says:

    It’s really simple – first amendment says our free speech shouldn’t be abridged. Allowing corporations protections under the first amendment and letting them spend so much money abridges my free speech by stealing my representative. 1. Corporations are not people, 2. we should be able to restrict speech by corporations/unions/ etc – if you are not a person. 3. propose amendment to state people are people – organizations are not people and are not protected by the bill of rights. 4. propose amendment that limits campaign financing to within a candidates district and only from people within the district.

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