Nation's High Court Voids Key Provision of State's System of Public Funding for Candidates

Phoenix, AZ – The 1998 voter-approved law allows candidates for statewide and legislative office to get state dollars if they agree not to take private donations. What was before the court was a section which gives extra cash to publicly funded candidates when their privately financed foes spend more, or when others spend money on behalf of those foes. Several politicians and special interests sued. One was Sen. John McComish.

(The term of art is, it chills your speech. If money is the equivalent of speech, you are inhibited from raising funds. In 2008 I made a conscious decision at one point I wasn't going to raise any more money because my opponents would get that same amount of money. And they didn't have to work for it. So why would I do that? So it really inhibited my speech.)

The court, in a 5-4 decision, agreed, saying that the state has no right to level the playing field with public funds. The court was careful to say that the ruling does not make public funding itself illegal, only the matching funds. Todd Lang, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission said he believes that at least some candidates will still accept public funds, even without the ability to get more when they are being outspent.

(But when very wealthy candidates come in and look to spend a lot of money, I think you're right. I think some folks will think twice. Because they're not going to get matching funds. And so what they need to decide is, is that initial allotment enough. And it's enough to make them competitive and get their voice out there. Is that enough for them to win? That's something the individuals will decide.)

The ultimate future of what's left of the system will be decided next year when a measure goes on the ballot to constitutionally ban public funding of candidates. Attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, who fought matching funds and is opposed to public financing entirely, said he thinks voters will approve that measure.

(I think they've seen that we have a Clean Elections system in which money is used to promote Clean Elections itself, that subsidies have been used to support frivolous and fringe candidates and that our state has a massive budget deficit and the money can be used in far better ways.)

For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.