Supreme Court Strikes Another Blow to Clean Elections

The Supreme Court today, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the long-standing Arizona law providing matching funds for publicly financed candidates running against well-financed opponents. In Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, the Court’s majority held that the matching funds provision violates the First Amendment by chilling the speech of private campaign donors. Arizona’s voters adopted the clean elections law in the 1990s to reduce the political corruption that was repeatedly driving the state into crisis. Two governors had faced criminal indictment. Nearly ten percent of the Arizona legislature ended up facing civil or criminal charges after several legislators were caught on video accepting campaign contributions and bribes in exchange for legislative acts. Arizonans acted to reduce candidates’ dependence on wealthy campaign funders and restore integrity to their elections. Today’s elimination of the matching funds provision severely damages the state’s hard-won clean elections law.

Marge Baker of People For the American Way Foundation, said:

“This decision, based on an upside-down interpretation of the First Amendment, takes away the right of Arizonans not only to ensure a modicum of integrity and fairness in their elections but to promote more political speech. The Court has thus ensured that the wealthiest can continue to pay for outsized political influence and maintain their speech advantages.

“The Roberts Court has once again twisted the Constitution to benefit the wealthy and powerful while leaving ordinary Americans with a diminished voice. Like in Citizens United v. FEC, which prohibited legislatures from limiting corporate spending to influence elections, the Court’s majority has strayed from the text and history of the Constitution in order to prevent citizens from maintaining control over our democracy. The Roberts Court would do well to remember that the Constitution was written to protect democracy for all people, not just the rich and powerful. Today it has ruled not only that the wealthy have a right to spend more but that they have a right that everyone else spend less.”

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