Clean election rule's fate with high court
A ruling in recent days concerning Arizona's public funding system for election candidates seems curious in light of current legal precedent established by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ruling involves a specific section of the law concerning spending by candidates who do not accept public money under the state's so-called Clean Elections Law. When a privately funded candidate spends more than their publicly funded opponent, then a provision kicks in which allows that public candidate to receive more funds that normally allowed.
This is intended to make the election process "fairer" for public candidates by helping to prevent privately financed candidates from outspending them on political ads and other campaign matters. The rationale behind the provision is that the candidate who spends the most is more likely to win, which of course is not necessarily true - there are many factors involved in who wins elections.
A federal district judge ruled several months ago that this provision is an unconstitutional violation of private candidates' free speech, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that it is OK. The U.S. Supreme Court, as the final arbiter, is now being asked to settle the issue one way or the other.
Based on the the high court's past record on a similar issue, it appears more likely that it would side with the district court rather than the appeals court.
In 2008, the Supreme Court found limitations on excessive campaign spending by candidates under federal campaign finance reform laws violated their free speech because they prevented candidates from exercising their rights to express themselves fully during campaigns.
That precedent, in part, is what the district judge based her ruling on in rejecting the clean elections provision. She found the extra money given to the publicly funded candidate was an unfair advantage, potentially forcing the privately funded candidate to choose to spend less and reduce their ability to express themselves in order to keep their opponent from being given more public money.
Opponents of the clean elections provision asked the high court Monday to make an emergency ruling due to the pending distribution of public money for this fall's election. Whether the court decides to accept the case or not will likely give us an indication of whether it sees a potential constitutional issue or not.