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6/3/2010 9:07:00 AM
Supreme Court to again hear arguments on clean elections law

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services


PHOENIX -- The nation's high court is giving foes of Arizona matching funds provision of its campaign finance law one last chance to immediately kill the system.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on Wednesday said he wants the state to explain to him -- and to the full court -- by Monday why candidates for this election should be given extra cash when their privately funded foes spend more. Attorney Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute, who represents challengers, said the request is a "positive sign' that the court questions the legality of the Arizona law.

More to the point, he said it suggests the justices might actually quash the matching funds provision this month.

Todd Lang, director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said he doubts that will happen. Lang said it should be clear to the justices that changing the rules now, just three months before the primary, would be unfair to the candidates who made decisions on how to finance their campaigns based on the law.

But Dranias and Lang did agree on one thing: The justices will not leave lower court rulings about the legality of the law unexamined. They ultimately will conduct a full review of the law, if not immediately then this fall.

Lang pointed out that various federal appellate courts have reached different conclusions on how far states can go to equalize funding among candidates.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month there is nothing wrong with the provision in the 1998 Arizona law which says the state can provide extra cash when privately financed candidates exceed the allocations given to their publicly funded foes.

Buz Mills already has spent close to $2.3 million in his bid to become the Republican gubernatorial nominee, compared with the $707,447 allocation for Jan Brewer and Dean Martin who are considered "participating' in the public financing system. Absent Supreme Court intervention, each will get a check later this month for three times that original allocation, the limit of the state match under the law, no matter how much more Mills spends.

Dranias pointed out the Supreme Court two years ago voided a federal law which he said is similar.

That provision said when rich candidates spend their own money above a certain level, then the rules for foes to raise more money are loosened. The justices said that law violates the rights of candidates to finance their own speech with their own money.

But Lang said the 9th Circuit found differences between the Arizona law and that 1998 case.

Lang said the state's best argument to have the justices stay out of the fray -- at least for now -- is timing.

"It's too late for 'participating' candidates who have received (state) funding to switch to traditional,' he said.

Lang said contenders who agreed to accept public funds and were counting on a state match cannot legally now start soliciting money from outsiders to make up the difference. That's because they agreed, as a condition of getting public money, not to accept other cash.

Even if that were not the case, Lang said it's too late from a practical standpoint. He said publicly funded candidates don't have any system in place to start raising funds.

The Supreme Court gave no indication of when it would rule.


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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 4, 2010
Article comment by: Frank Henry

Hi,


Campaign funding by government is
unconstitutional.

My money (what little there is) is my voice. I
have a right to support the candidate(s) of my
choice. But when gov takes (taxes, etc) my
money and give it to the candidate(s) they
choose...it ain't right.


Thank and Good Luck




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