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Ending Arizona’s Unconstitutional Experiment with Taxpayer-Funded Campaigns

McComish v. Bennett (Clean Elections)

Case Status

Date Filed

August 21, 2008

Last Step

Victory! The U.S. Supreme Court reversed Ninth Circuit’s ruling and declared matching funds unconstitutional.

Next Step

Case Overview

The Goldwater Institute partnered with the Institute for Justice to bring an end to the use of matching funds as part of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act. Narrowly passed by voters in 1998, the act used taxpayer money in an attempt to level the financial playing field between candidates for state offices.

This matching funds provision was challenged by two lawsuits – McComish v. Bennett and Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett – which were consolidated. On June 27, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and declared matching funds unconstitutional.

Here’s how the provision worked: If a privately funded candidate raised or spent money beyond a specific limit, an unelected state commission would gives approximately the same amount of taxpayer money to all publicly funded opponents. In addition, if a person or group made an independent expenditure in favor of a privately financed candidate, the commission also gave the same amount of money to all opponents funding their campaigns with tax dollars.

In effect, the state government used public money to dilute the political speech of one group and promote the political speech of another. 

In January 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver ruled that the matching funds portion of the Clean Elections Act violated the First Amendment and issued an injunction against it. The Citizens Clean Elections Commission appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared the scheme constitutional.

In a rare and unusual move, the Supreme Court stayed the Ninth Circuit’s decision and reinstated the injunction against matching funds before hearing oral arguments. It ultimately ruled matching funds unconstitutional.


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