Supreme Court Revisits Campaign Finance

Justices hear challenge to Arizona's public financing system for campaigns.

ByABC News
March 28, 2011, 1:12 PM

March 28, 2011 -- The Supreme Court returned to the controversial issue of campaign finance today, hearing a constitutional challenge to Arizona's public financing system for political campaigns.

Several of the conservative justices on the bench seemed skeptical of the constitutionality of the Arizona Citizen's Clean Elections Act.

The law allows a candidate who qualifies for public financing to receive a lump-sum grant from the government if he or she refuses to accept private contributions.

But the law goes a step further then other public financing laws. It also says that participating candidates can qualify for additional matching funds from the government if their opponents who have chosen not to participate in public funding spend more than the initial grant.

The matching funds provided by the government are capped at three times the initial grant.

Arizona voters passed the law in 1998 in the wake of political scandals in order to restore the public faith and diminish the influence of special interest money in campaign races.

Supporters of the law say it encourages candidates to take public financing, promotes competition in races and also prevents corruption.

But opponents of the law say that it forces non-participating candidates to limit their spending so they won't trigger the matching-fund provision.

Those opposed to the law say that by limiting spending, the law suppresses the free speech rights of the non-participating candidates.

In court today, William R. Maurer, representing Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a political action committee that opposes the law, said that in an attempt to "level the playing field," the law actually worked as a disincentive for candidates to exercise their First Amendment rights.

"What this case is about is whether the government can turn my act of speaking into the vehicle by which my political opponents benefit with direct government subsidies," Maurer said.

Maurer has no objection to the public financing aspect of the law but rather to the government's giving additional funds to publicly financed candidates as a direct result of a privately financed candidate exceeding a spending limit.