Gavel Grab

Other Public Financing Plans Grab Spotlight

In the wake of Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, there’s a new spotlight on alternate public campaign financing systems that could become popular models.

New York City’s system is praised as a “resounding success” and potential model for the entire state in an essay by Mark Ladov and Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice, published by Newsday. They call New York City’s plan a voluntary “small donor public financing system.” New York City provides participating candidates a $6-to-$1 match in public dollars for each of the first $175 given by an individual city resident. The authors explain:

“That means a $175 donation to a city council candidate is worth as much as a $1,225 contribution from a special-interest lobbyist. This encourages candidates to seek help from average citizens — and allows candidates with grassroots support to run viable campaigns, even without the backing of big money.”

Meanwhile a press release by the Campaign Finance Institute is entitled “Public Financing of Elections after Citizens United and Arizona Free Enterprise: Study shows small-donor matching fund programs would dilute the power of big donors and and increase participation by small donors in a manner that would pass constitutional muster.”

In Arizona Free Enterprise Club, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a key mechanism in Arizona’s public campaign financing law (see Gavel Grab). Under the provision, publicly funded candidates could get additional dollars, called “trigger” funds, when privately financed candidates or independent groups spent more.

In the Room for Debate feature of the New York Times, election law scholar Rick Hasen wrote a piece entitled, “New York City as a Model?” He addressed questions whether the New York City law could withstand constitutional testing after the latest Supreme Court ruling:

“Would the New York model survive a First Amendment attack before the Roberts Supreme Court? It is hard to say. On the one hand, because the multiple match does not give additional money based upon opponent spending, it is not directly contrary to [the court’s] holding. And the court has said that public financing is ‘not our business.’ But such plans may be doomed if the court views them as ‘leveling the playing field,’ an equality rationale for campaign finance laws that the court majority has now rejected in three straight cases.”

A  skeptical view came from an essay in the New York Post by Bradley A. Smith that is headlined, “Will NYC campaign law be next to fall?” The headline for a Wall Street Journal article declared, “After Supreme Court ruling, NYC’s campaign-finance law at risk.”



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