The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in the consolidated cases of Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett. At stake in these cases is the ability of states to combat the influence of wealthy special interests in elections.
Arizona voters passed the Citizens Clean Election Act in 1998 following a set of major corruption scandals in the state legislature. The Act creates a detailed scheme under which candidates must demonstrate a certain level of support and abide by a strict set of fundraising and spending restrictions in order to receive public funds for a campaign. The Act allows a candidate to receive additional funding if the candidate faces attacks from well-financed independent expenditure groups who spend over a certain amount of money or if the candidate’s opponent refuses public funds and spends over a certain amount. The Act is designed to level the playing field when a publicly-funded candidate faces a wealthy, self-financed opponent.
The petitioners claim that the law is prohibited by the First Amendment, citing a host of “burdens” that discourage them from outspending publicly-financed candidates. If the Supreme Court overturns Arizona’s election law, it will close off another avenue of reform designed to reduce the undue influence of corporate interests and wealthy candidates in political races.
Click here for coverage of oral arguments.