Remember college? During political campaigns, it was common practice to put up signs-even paper entire walls-with ads supporting your candidate. But what if you had known that putting up those signs would actually help the opposing candidate? Would you bother posting signs or getting involved at all?
That's the speech-chilling conundrum faced by groups from the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce to Arizona trade associations that want to voice support for or opposition against various candidates for public office.
For every dollar independent groups spend on radio ads, billboards, and political mailings to support privately financed candidates, government-financed candidates receive one taxpayer dollar from Arizona's Clean Elections system.
However, a lawsuit wending its way through the Ninth Federal Circuit could end those regulations that stifle free speech.
Filed last year by the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter on behalf of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Sen. Dean Martin, and former congressman Matt Salmon, the lawsuit argues that Clean Elections should not trump Arizonans' free speech rights, and cites previous court decisions, including a 1988 federal ruling that struck down similar provisions in Minnesota on free speech grounds.
If the court rules in favor of the Institute for Justice, matching provisions and other rules that penalize privately financed candidates could be eliminated. While a final decision may be years away, a favorable ruling could restore the fair treatment of political speech.
-Institute for Justice: "Challenging Arizona's 'Clean Elections' Act That Punishes Candidates Who Don't Take Taxpayer Money"
-Bolick: "Initiative Ruling Marks Decline of Once-Proud Court"
-Study: Is Cleanliness Political Godliness? Arizona's Clean Elections Law after Its First Year