Campaign spending has long been a slippery slope, and finding a balance between private and public interests and wealthy benefactors and nickel-dime contributors has been difficult. But the goal — trying to mitigate the impact of big bucks on election campaigns — has been a worthy one. And one that the Roberts Supreme Court has once again determined to be less worthy than allowing corporations and others with deep pockets to inordinately influence if not outright buy elections.
Coming on the heels of the Citizens United ruling in which a narrow (and of course conservative) majority of justices astonishingly conferred free speech rights on the Fortune 500′s finest when it came to unbridled campaign contributions, the same five justices this week struck down the Arizona Clean Elections Act, a 1998 ballot initiative that gave public money to candidates who agreed to limit their personal spending to $500, participate in at least one debate, and return unspent money.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts banged a by-now familiar drum, declaring that “Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand.”
For good measure, Justice Samuel Alito called the law “an unprecedented penalty on any candidate who robustly exercises” free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, and none of the majority justices were swayed by Justice Elena Kagan’s view that “What the law does — all the law does — is fund more speech.”
Like Citizens United, the decision was an astonishing leap of legal logic when viewed in an historic context but not unexpected from a court that has been slavishly pro-big business while chipping away at the rights of mere individuals. Several other states have similar laws and you can expect them to also die painful deaths as the court marches toward its eventual goal, which is undermine any form of public financing that fetters big business and fat cats.