Supreme Court Grants Cert in Arizona Public Financing Case

November 29, 2010

New York - Today, the Supreme Court announced it would hear McComish v. Bennett, a case challenging the constitutionality of a provision of Arizona's Clean Elections public campaign financing system. 

The Brennan Center, with its pro bono partner Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, will defend the law in the Supreme Court on behalf of our client the Arizona Clean Elections Institute.  Bradley Phillips of Munger Tolles is expected to argue the case.

At issue in the case are "trigger matching funds," issued to participating candidates who face high-spending nonparticipating opponents or outside groups. This is part of the Clean Elections law, enacted after outrageous state corruption scandals in 1998.  Clean Elections provides public funding for candidates who qualify and agree to forgo private fundraising.  Trigger matching funds enable states such as Arizona to provide publicly funded candidates with enough money to run in competitive races while avoiding the waste of public funds on uncompetitive races.  While triggered matching funds enhance the speech of publicly funded candidates, they place no limit on the amounts that privately financed candidates may raise or spend on their campaigns. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs claim that the system's "trigger matching funds" chill the speech of non-participating opponents or outside groups, and thus violate the First Amendment.

In May, a Ninth Circuit panel ruled in this case and unanimously upheld the constitutionality of Arizona's public financing system. In June, however, upon plaintiffs' request, the Supreme Court stayed the Court of Appeals decision.  This effectively froze the system, and blocked the distribution of "trigger matching funds" to participating candidates in the middle of the election season.

"The Arizona Clean Elections system, in effect for over a decade, helped move the state beyond egregious corruption and recurrent scandal. This law has boosted speech while combating corruption.  The trigger funds provision, a carefully considered element of this law, was upheld unanimously by the Court of Appeals. We believe this provision is constitutionally sound, and advances First Amendment values rather than burdening them, as we will argue before the Supreme Court. We strongly hope the Court finds this provision constitutional, and more broadly reasserts its longstanding support for voluntary public financing," said Brennan Center Executive Director Michael Waldman.

For more information about the case, read our case page here: http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/mccommish_v._bennett/

If you have questions, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at jeanine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu or at 646-292-8322.