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Supreme Court to decide Arizona’s unique campaign financing law

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Last year, the high court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that Congress under the First Amendment may not restrict the political speech of corporations and unions during election season.

Is 'equalizing' political speech constitutional?

The current case examines whether the First Amendment allows a state government to use a privately-funded candidate’s level of campaign spending to trigger matching funds from the government in a way that helps equalize the amount of speech by publicly funded candidates in the election.

Leveling the playing field among candidates to decrease the influence of money in politics is a major goal of many campaign finance reform advocates. The Arizona case may test the constitutionality of that approach.

Supporters of the Arizona public finance system say it helps fight corruption or the appearance of corruption by eliminating the need for state candidates to raise money to fund their election campaigns.

Opponents say the matching funds provision of the law exerts a chilling effect on the political speech of candidates who want to fund their own campaigns. Under the law, the more money a traditional candidate spends, the more money his or her publicly funded opponents will receive.

“Public financing in Arizona’s matching funds system forces a yoke around the neck of traditionally funded candidates,” said Nicholas Dranias in his brief to the court on behalf of candidates challenging the law.

“The State of Arizona … compels individuals to help disseminate private political speech, which they abhor, as a consequence and condition of speaking freely about politics,” said Mr. Dranias, a lawyer with the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix.

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