Until February of this year, the Arizona Students’ Association (ASA) had never had to compete for funds in the marketplace of ideas. ASA is a private organization formed in 1974 as a student group claiming to represent the approximately 150,000 students attending Arizona’s three public universities. Until 1998 ASA was directly subsidized by taxpayers through the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR), an arm of Arizona state government. In 1998 ABOR began collecting money for ASA directly from students through their tuition bills.
The no strings attached collection method has proven lucrative to the private organization. At $2.00 a semester per student the revenue nears $600,000 without any competition from other groups and no oversight on how it is spent. Most students never knew they paid a fee or what the fee supported. Until last year when a Goldwater Institute investigation showed that ASA had donated $120,000 in student fees to a political campaign to raise taxes.
In February ABOR changed its policy. Now students have to intend to fund ASA rather than doing so unwittingly. Instead of pushing their message and ideas on Arizona campuses and soliciting student support through donations, the Students’ Association filed a lawsuit against ABOR claiming that the change in policy violates its right to free speech protected by the First Amendment.
ABOR’s new “opt in” policy does nothing to prevent ASA from peddling its ideas and soliciting donations to help promote their causes. The policy infringes on nothing. It simply ends the subsidy gravy train that ASA has been riding since its founding. It seems ASA would rather litigate in a courtroom than compete with ideas in the free market. And you have to wonder why?
The Goldwater Institute agrees with the Board of Regents’ decision and has gone to court to protect the First Amendment rights of five students who no longer want to fund the Students’ Association’s political activity. These students want to preserve their constitutional protections against compelled speech.
Goldwater Institute: Investigative Report: Welcome to the Real World