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Supreme Court Limits Arizona Clean Election Law

Previously I did an analysis of the Supreme Court case in Citizens United vs. The Federal Election Commission (scroll down for entire blog). In the Citizens United case Justice Kennedy writing for the majority overturned the McCain Feingold amendment of the federal election laws. Using the First Amendment as his crutch and spear he and the majority ruled that  Citizens United (a political action group) should be treated no differently than any other citizen when it comes to making financial contributions to political campaigns. Consequently, large corporations will have unlimited financial power to influence a political campaign. Now, Justice Kennedy once again has taken the lead in what could possibly result in another victory for big business and candidates with unlimited financial resources. Arizona, who has been the subject of attack by constitutional advocates for its new law allowing police to detain suspicious looking individuals whom they think may be illegal immigrants, has its own campaign finance law. Arizona's Clean Elections Law which was approved by voters in 1998 was designed to control corruption in state legislature. The law provides for candidates who agree to abide by limits on campaign spending to receive public matching funds. In those states who have clean election laws (Maine, Arizona, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Connecticut , Vermont, Wisconsin, and even one of my favorite cities Albuquerque) the laws provide that publicly financed candidates who are outspent by a privately funded candidate  will normally receive additional funds (sometimes called "rescue funds") to match their privately funded opponent, up to a cap, with the intent of assuring that a candidate who runs with private funding will not outspend his publicly supported opponent. Most of Arizona's house races have used this publicly funded option. Two years ago the court struck down the Millionaires Amendment of the Mcain-Feingold law which allowed a candidate to raise more money through larger donations if his opponent was spending lavishly. Justice Alito said that this amendment was a drag on the free speech of the millionaire candidate because he or she was effectively penalized for spending more money. Now the Arizona law is being challenged. The lower court struck down the law and the 9th Circuit reversed and said the law was not unconstitutional. An appeal was filed with arguments to be heard later this year. But, in an unusual ruling Justice Kennedy handed down a one page order prohibiting the candidates from receiving any public funds until full argument and a decision. Maybe this wouldn't ordinarily be a terrible thing but the primary election for governor is scheduled in August and the incumbent Gov. Jan Brewer was scheduled to receive a $700,000 public installment which she now will not receive. Her opponent Buz Mills has already spent over $2,000,000 on his race and it's just the primary. The final ruling in this case is bound to influence the clean election laws of all those other states and put the electorate and the election back into the hands of those with the deepest pockets. It would appear that the balance of power in the Supreme Court when it comes to campaign financing is clearly with the conservative branch and with Kennedy on their side I would look for more to come. Dennis F Feeley

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