Legal Center Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Arizona Public Financing System


Today, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, along with six other public interest groups, filed an amici brief with the U.S. Supreme Court inMcComish v. Bennett to defend Arizona’s public financing program for state electoral campaigns. McComish marks the first time that the Supreme Court has considered the constitutionality of a public financing measure for over three decades.

The case concerns the triggered matching funds provisions of Arizona’s program that provide candidates who choose to participate with supplemental public funds in the event they face high spending by a non-participating opponent or by hostile independent groups.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that these provisions were constitutional, finding that they created no more than a “potential chilling effect” on the campaign activity of non-participating candidates and outside groups.  

In the amici brief, the Legal Center urges the Supreme Court to affirm the Ninth Circuit’s decision, and to avoid consideration of broader constitutional questions that are not before the court.  The amici emphasize that the Supreme Court strongly endorsed the constitutionality of the presidential public financing system in its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, and argue that the legal principles set forth in Buckley compel the conclusion that the trigger provisions of Arizona’s program are also constitutional.

First, like the presidential program reviewed in Buckley, the challenged trigger provisions provide a public subsidy to participating candidates, but do not directly restrict either the contributions to or expenditures by privately-financed candidates.  Further, Arizona’s public financing program serves the governmental interests in eliminating the corruptive influence of large private contributions and relieving candidates from the pressures of private fundraising.   In short, as Buckley found of the presidential system, Arizona’s program is an “effort, not to abridge, restrict, or censor speech, but rather to use public money to facilitate and enlarge public discussion and participation in the electoral process.”

The amici brief was filed by the Legal Center on behalf of itself and the following public interest groups: Democracy 21, the League of Woman Voters of the United States, the League of Women Voters of Arizona, Public Citizen, CREW, the Sierra Club and New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Center.

To read the full brief, click here.