PHOENIX - At an emergency meeting Wednesday, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission declared that taxpayer-funded candidates who have accepted campaign subsidies cannot withdraw from the Clean Elections system and run with private fundraising. But the Commission is wrong, according to the lead attorney who convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to block the use of matching funds at this point.
"There is nothing in the law that prohibits withdrawal from the Clean Elections system - provided taxpayer-funded candidates return their government subsidies and run with private financing," said Nick Dranias, the Goldwater Institute's director of constitutional studies. "No provision in the Citizens Clean Elections Act addresses the issue of voluntary withdrawal from the system. And no rule prohibits the Commission from allowing candidates to withdraw from the system if they return their subsidies."
Mr. Dranias said the Commission can consider requests for withdrawal from the system if candidates can show a good reason to do so. Now that the Supreme Court has blocked the issuance of matching funds, the Commission should find good cause to allow candidates such as Governor Jan Brewer to quit the Clean Elections system if they return their government subsidies.
The sole rule cited at the Commission's emergency meeting to prevent candidates from leaving the Clean Elections system says candidates "may voluntarily terminate his or her participating candidate status at any time prior to notification by the Commission that such candidate has qualified for Clean Elections funding." The rule does not say "may only." The use of the permissive word "may" means that the rule describes one option for withdrawing from the system. Mr. Dranias also said the Commission has the discretion to give candidates an opportunity to withdraw from the system if they return their government subsidies.
Even if the rule were an impediment, nothing stops the Commission from repealing the rule or adopting a new rule allowing candidates to return their public campaign funds and raise private donations instead.
"The First Amendment required matching funds to be struck down," Mr. Dranias said. "But nothing justifies the Clean Election Commission's determination to force candidates to remain in a system that imposes spending limits without the possibility of receiving matching funds."
The Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation represents John McComish, Nancy McClain and Tony Bouie, candidates for the Arizona Legislature whose campaigns are funded by private donations. They are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm a January 2010 decision in federal district court that strikes down the matching funds component of the Clean Elections system.
Read more about this and other Goldwater lawsuits to protect individual rights and keep government within its constitutional limits at www.goldwaterinstitute.org/litigation. The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog supported by people who are committed to expanding free enterprise and liberty.