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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New York Times Slams Corporate Court for Backing Wealthy Special Interests Over Campaign Finance Reforms

A New York Times editorial criticized the Supreme Court’s conservative members yesterday for protecting the right of wealthy individuals and special interests to financially overwhelm opponents in political campaigns. The constitutionality of a campaign finance provision in Arizona came before the Court on March 28, 2011 in the consolidated cases of Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom PAC v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett. Under the challenged law, candidates in Arizona who accepted public financing could receive increased public funding for their campaigns if they faced attacks from well-financed independent expenditure groups that spent more than statutory limits or if the candidate’s opponent refused public funds and overspent the law’s limits.

The editorial called this reform “one of the most compelling innovations in the country.” Opponents claim that it burdens the free speech of wealthy special interests. For example, during oral arguments, Chief Justice Roberts strongly suggested that he “sees triggered matching public funds as a limit on the privately financed candidate’s speech.” This is counterintuitive, as the law does not in any way limit the spending or speech of privately-financed candidates; it simply provides matching funds for candidates that accept public financing. The Times added that under Arizona's law, “more candidates — not just the wealthy — will be able to run in elections,” which will result in “more political speech, not less.”

If the Court sides with those who want Arizona's public-financing elections system struck down, it will become another in a series of decisions siding with wealthy special interests in election-law disputes. In a 2008 decision, Davis v. Federal Election Commission, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court struck down a federal rule that increased the cap on campaign contributions for candidates outspent by wealthy and self-financing opponents. The majority held that the rule harmed the free speech rights of wealthy candidates by diminishing “the effectiveness” of their spending and speech. The 2010 Citizens United case also unleashed a torrent of corporate money into federal elections. The Times lamented that “money already has far too much sway everywhere in politics,” adding that if the Court continues to strike down laws that facilitate more campaign speech for candidates being drowned out by wealthy opponents, “the damage and corruption will be enormous.”

Click here to read the full editorial.

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