If the Roberts Court is set on anything it is making sure corporations, and the powerful who run them, have unfettered access and influence to the electoral process.
The latest victim in the Roberts Court war on clean and corruption free-elections is Arizona’s voluntary public financing law. The law, passed by voters as a ballot initiative in response to well-documented pay-for-play scandals, provided extra public financing for candidates facing millionaire opponents who could spend freely from their own coffers or who faced attack from major outside spending enshrined by Swift Boat style groups who abuse their 503(c)(4) non-profit status.
The Court’s 5-4 ruling said the law impermissibly forces privately funded candidates and independent political organizations to either restrain their spending or risk triggering matching funds to their publicly financed opponents. According to Chief Justice Roberts, the matching provision served as a “punishment” for those groups who spent money by awarding money to their opponents each time they did.
I guess one man’s punishment is another’s leveling of the playing field, which is the point made by Justice Elena Kagan in a blistering dissent that accused the conservative majority of intellectual dishonesty and “chutzpa”.
While it is a bad decision, it could be worse. The ruling did not go so far as to rule limits on direct campaign contributions unconstitutional as some thought they might after the sweeping opinion in Citizens United. That’s important since Citizens United and anti-campaign finance law advocate Jim Bopp cites to Citizens United in his nation-wide attempts to have all contribution limits struck down.
And the decision also did not rule public financing of campaigns as unconstitutional per se. The trick is going to be finding a mechanism of public financing that survives First Amendment scrutiny.
photo courtesy of Tracy O via Flickr