The U.S. Supreme Court said Nov. 29 it will consider dismantling an Arizona rule that gives extra money to publicly funded candidates who face privately funded rivals.
The court already blocked the state in June from handing out so-called matching funds in the recent election. The justices agreed to hear an appeal from opponents who say the money violates free speech rights under the First Amendment.
Under Arizona’s system, candidates who opt for public financing can get funds up to two times their base amount when they’re outspent by privately funded rivals or targeted by independent group spending.
Critics say the public money chills free-speech rights of privately financed candidates and their contributors by inhibiting fundraising and spending.
Federal appeals courts have struck down similar programs in Connecticut and Florida since a high court ruling in 2008 voided the federal “millionaire’s amendment.” The amendment was intended to level the field for congressional candidates facing wealthy opponents who spend lots of their own money.
A federal judge in Arizona cited the Supreme Court decision in ruling against the Arizona Clean Elections program, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco found that the matching funds did not violate the First Amendment.
Argument will be heard in the spring in two appeals joined together as one high court case. The appeals are Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, 10-238, and McComish v. Bennett, 10-239.