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May v. Brewer

Plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of the portion of Arizona’s Clean Money/Clean Elections system requiring a 10% surcharge on criminal and civil fines.

Published: March 24, 2003

May v. Brewer
Campaign Finance Reform

May v. Brewer (formerly called May v. McNally) involved an attack on Arizona’s Clean Money/Clean Elections system that allowed candidates who receive a certain number of $5 qualifying contribuations to obtain total public funding for their campaigns. Arizona adopted its Clean Elections system by initiative in 1998, receiving about two-thirds of the system’s funding from a surcharge on civil and criminal fines. The plaintiff, a fined motorist, challenged the constitutionality of a portion of the Act requiring that a 10% surcharge on criminal and civil fines be distributed to political candidates. Plaintiff argued that the surcharge required him to finance speech he did not support in contravention of his First Amendment right to free speech.

The Center represented Arizonans for Clean Elections, the group that sponsored the initiative, arguing that generally applicable assessments, such as Arizona’s 10 percent surcharge, do not implicate First Amendment rights and are therefore permitted by the Constitution. The plan established by Arizona for financing, argued the Center, falls well within the zone of discretion enjoyed by states establishing their own tax policy and election funding systems. In addition, any funds that are collected through the surcharge system are distributed to candidates in a manner that is viewpoint neutral, thereby rejecting the challenge to the law and the funding system. In late March 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for a writ of certiorari. See May v. Brewer (538 US 923 2003).