Gavel Grab

Editorial: Finance Ruling a Setback for Democracy

In two national newspaper editorials, a Supreme Court opinion that struck down part of an Arizona public financing law was alternatively condemned and saluted for its “silver lining.”

“The Supreme Court decision striking down public matching funds in Arizona’s campaign finance system is a serious setback for American democracy,” protested a  New York Times editorial entitled “The First Amendment, Upside Down.” The editorial said, “It takes away a vital, innovative way of ensuring that candidates who do not have unlimited bank accounts can get enough public dollars to compete effectively.”

A USA Today editorial, entitled “Public Finance Ruling Leaves a Silver Lining,” offered a different emphasis. It said “the big news from Monday’s ruling wasn’t that the Arizona law was struck down, but that the majority said it had no interest in killing public financing altogether. For anyone fed up with government going to the highest bidder, that’s reassuring.”

Some commentary took an entirely different view and applauded the ruling in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett. The court voided a provision for matching or “trigger” funds, the extra dollars made available to publicly funded candidates when a privately funded opponent or group spent beyond a specific threshold.

“The Supreme Court yesterday continued its welcome dismantling of the campaign finance assault on political speech,” cheered a  Wall Street Journal editorial. Its headline touted “Another Political Speech Victory.” The editorial urged more dismantling of campaign finance regulation in the future, saying “political speech won’t be safe until the Court goes all the way and overturns Buckleyv. Valeo, a 1976 ruling that permitted campaign contribution limits.

A USA Today Opposing View commentary by Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics warned that supporters of public financing for elections would not rest.

“Now advocates of tax-financed campaigns are pushing a straight match where the government doles out tax dollars to candidates based on how much they raise,” Parnell wrote. “Whatever the details, tax-financed campaigns have failed to achieve their goal of curbing corruption.”

An Arizona Republic editorial was headlined, “High Court Cut Bad Part of Law.” This editorial took a more practical approach:

“Those things that Arizona’s Clean Elections campaign-finance law seems to do pretty well, such as free up candidates from the burdens of fundraising, it can continue to do. And that’s a good thing.

“The thing the law did all too well – which was to smother the ability of traditionally financed candidates from competing for office – it now is forbidden from doing.”

To learn more about the ruling, click here for earlier Gavel Grab posts. The latest news coverage of the ruling included articles by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett was consolidated with another case, McComish v. Bennett.

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