Borrowing from the book title “Radicals in Robes,” on June 8th those radicals struck again, cutting off matching funds to candidates participating in Arizona’s public campaign-finance system. Speaking for the court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, granted the order. He did not say who voted in favor, but it takes the votes of five justices to grant a stay. It is likely that the same five judges who voted in favor of Citizens United are responsible for this latest action.
According to the New York Times, “The court’s reckless order muscling into the race was terse and did not say whether there were any dissents, though it is hard to imagine there were not. An opinion explaining its reasoning will have to wait until the next term, assuming it takes the case, but by that time the state’s general election will be over and its model campaign finance system substantially demolished.”
The Arizona Clean Campaigns legislation provides qualifying candidates a lump-sum grant for their primary or general election races and in exchange the candidates agree not to raise large private contributions. If an opposing candidate who has declined to participate in the system spends more than the lump-sum grant, then the participating candidate qualifies for additional matching funds.
According to the Times, “Well-financed candidates, backed by the Goldwater Institute and other conservative interests “argued that the matching funds ‘chilled’ their freedom of speech because they were afraid to spend more than the limit that triggered the funds. A lower court agreed with that pretzel logic, but last month a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disagreed. It said the speech of the plaintiffs had not been chilled.”
Judge A. Wallace Tashima of the 9th Circuit wrote, “The essence of this claim is not that they have been silenced but that the speech of their opponents has been enabled.” Tashima further wrote that “the record demonstrates that Arizona has a long history of quid pro quo corruption….Arizona voters were justified in concluding that contribution limits alone were not sufficient to combat corruption and its appearance … Furthermore, the state has an interest in providing matching funds to encourage participation in its public funding scheme.”
In 2008, the Supreme Court eliminated the Millionaires’ Amendment, which let Congressional candidates raise more money when running against candidates who pay for their own campaigns. In January, in the Citizens United case, the court eliminated limits to campaign spending by corporations.
The activist Roberts’ court is positioning this case to continue its destruction of the laws and systems set up in recent decades to reduce the influence of big money in politics. By dismantling clean and fair campaign legislation across the country and at the federal level, millionaires and corporations will have regained an enormous voice in American politics, at the expense of candidates who have to raise money in smaller amounts and from many individuals and sources. The United States system of democratically elected representatives will suffer, if not disappear, under a deeply entrenched pay-to-play system.