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Why sharply divided Supreme Court may strike down Arizona campaign-finance law

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“What this case is about is whether the government can turn my act of speaking into the vehicle by which my political opponents benefit – with direct government subsidies,” he said.

The lawyer defending the Arizona law, Bradley Phillips, told the justices the provision fosters more political speech and more political competition while simultaneously fighting the corrupting influence of money in politics.

Mr. Phillips told the court that the matching-funds provision helps fight corruption by offering candidates an effective alternative to raising campaign funds from special interests.

Mr. Maurer countered that the provision violates free speech protections of the First Amendment by punishing candidates who opt-out of the public financing program. He said the government should not use one candidate’s protected political speech as a means of triggering additional money for other, government-funded, candidates.

Maurer said there was no constitutional problem with awarding public-funded candidates the full amount of the campaign grant upfront. He said his only complaint was with the triggering mechanism.

The law also provides additional matching funds whenever an independent advocacy group runs an ad opposed to a government-funded candidate or in favor of a privately-funded candidate. In contrast, no funding is triggered when an advocacy group backs a government-funded candidate or opposes a privately funded candidate.

Questions from the justices

During the hour-long argument on Monday, the justices appeared to be divided along well-established liberal-conservative lines.

The liberal wing, comprised of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, appeared through their questions and comments to favor upholding Arizona’s matching funds provision.

They appeared to agree with the federal appeals court panel that said the provision was permissible because it enhanced speech, fostering more political speech rather than less.

“There’s no restriction at all here,” Justice Kagan said at one point. “It’s more speech all the way around.”

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