Monday, June 27, 2011

Campaign finance reform: yet another in the long list of unintended consequences

The U.S. Supreme Court shot down an Arizona campaign finance law that was supposed to "keep money out of politics" or "level the playing field" or some other such trope that the subject law never comes close to accomplishing.

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning handed down a 5-4 ruling in the consolidated cases Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett, striking down Arizona’s speech-squelching “Clean Elections” law. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Roberts, concluded:

Arizona’s program gives money to a candidate in direct response to the campaign speech of an opposing candidate or an independent group. It does this when the opposing candidate has chosen not to accept public financing, and has engaged in political speech above a level set by the State. The professed purpose of the state law is to cause a sufficient number of candidates to sign up for public financing, which subjects them to the various restrictions on speech that go along with that program. This goes too far; Arizona’s matching funds provision substantially burdens the speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups without serving a compelling state interest.

The Court also strongly rejected the idea that laws like Arizona’s could permissibly be used to “level the electoral playing field”:

“Leveling the playing field” can sound like a good thing. But in a democracy, campaigning for office is not a game. It is a critically important form of speech. The First Amendment embodies our choice as a Nation that, when it comes to such speech, the guiding principle is freedom—the “unfettered interchange of ideas”—not whatever the State may view as fair.
(italics, ours)

Well said, Justice Roberts.

The Institute for Justice is now 4 for 5 in cases heard before the Supreme Court, their lone setback being the excrable Kelo vs. New London decision that caused 43 states, red and blue alike, to enact stricter eminent domain abuse laws.

Short video below captures nicely the unintended consequences of the "Clean Elections" law.

We all want clean elections and we all want transparent elections and perhaps it would be nice if there wasn't so much bloody money in politics/elections but because of the increasingly pervasive reach of the government into all areas of our lives, politics wield too much power to not be purchased in some form or another.

Long-time followers of this blog know one of our favorite sayings when it comes to the Sisyphean nature of campaign finance reform laws when it comes to the money and politics nexus: You will never keep money out of politics until you remove power from politics by corresponding degrees.

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