Supreme Court Axes Arizona's Matching Funds Law

In a 5-4 ruling, Court strikes down part of Arizona's attempt to level the playing field

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The Supreme Court voted 5-4 Monday to overturn an Arizona election law that provided matching public funds to candidates who are being outspent by opponents who self-fund or take private money.

In the majority opinion for Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, Chief Justice John Roberts said that government could not be involved in any "attempt to equalize electoral opportunities in this manner" but added that the ruling was not intended to "[call] into question the wisdom of public financing,"

In her dissent, Elena Kagan said that overturning the 1998 law would limit the amount of voices that could participate in the process. "Less corruption, more speech," Kagan wrote. "Robust campaigns leading to the election of representatives not beholden to the few, but accountable to the many. The people of Arizona might have expected a decent respect for those objectives. Today, they do not get it." Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor also dissented.

The ruling, which at first glance seems like a defeat for campaign finance reform advocates, actually should offer "a glimmer of hope to advocates of limiting the role of money in politics [because] the court did not launch a broad attack on taxpayer-funded campaigns," explains the Associated Press. Politico's Ken Vogel agreed, writing that the "relatively narrow ruling...appears unlikely to impact the federal presidential public financing system," which doesn't have a matching funds trigger.

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