The U.S Supreme Court granted a petition Monday to review an Arizona case challenging the constitutionality of publicly funded political campaigns like Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program that Gov.-elect Dan Malloy utilized in this year’s mid-term election.
(Updated 3:10 p.m., Dec. 3) According to the court’s website, the case, McComish v. Bennett, raises two questions.
The first question the Supreme Court will try to answer is whether it must strike down Arizona’s matching funds program because it “penalizes and deters free speech by forcing privately-financed candidates and their supporters to finance the dissemination of hostile political speech whenever they raise or spend private money, or when independent expenditures are made, above a ‘spending limit.’ “
The second question it will address is whether the program “regulates campaign financing in order to equalize ‘influence’ and financial resources among competing candidates and interest groups, rather than to advance directly a compelling state interest in the least restrictive manner.”
In either case, a decision that rules Arizona’s program unconstitutional could have a significant impact on Connecticut’s program, which passed in August after the House overrode a veto by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
The Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank based in Hartford that prepared an amicus brief for the case, has weighed in with a news release saying it supported the court’s decision to review the case because such programs represent government interference in the outcomes of elections.
“Connecticut’s system of taxpayer-funded elections remains constitutionally suspect, despite the legislature’s eleventh-hour changes made last summer,” said Fergus Cullen, the institute’s director. “Connecticut’s campaign finance law uses public funds to punish candidates the government thinks are speaking too much and to subsidize other candidates the government thinks are speaking too little.”
But Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president for state operations of Common Cause a citizens lobby group, and Cheri Quickmire, the group’s executive director, said that Cullen is incorrect in his assessment of the issues at stake in the McCornish case and misunderstood the state legislature’s goals when it passed a fix to the public finance law.
Flynn said that the court will be addressing a narrow issue called “trigger” funds, which the state’s legislature removed from the provision after the August primaries. Flynn defended the “trigger” funds as enabling a candidates to defend themselves against special interest attacks.
“Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides on this relatively narrow area of law, it is not the death of public financing nor the death or our highly successful Citizens’ Election Program that keeps special interest money from dominating our elections,” she said in a prepared statement.
According to the Yankee Institute, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in the case by next June.