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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


AZ law could violate free speech

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments to eliminate an element in Arizona’s Clean Elections law last week.

This provision gives extra money to publicly funded candidates to match their privately funded opponents.

The Citizens Clean Elections Act, a 1998 voter-approved Arizona law, states that candidates seeking statewide and legislative offices can get money if they agree not to take private donations. The politicians and business groups against the law are seeking to end the provision stating publically financed candidates can receive extra money on a dollar-for-dollar basis to match their privately funded opponents, up to three times the original allocated amount.

Arguments against the provision contend it is unconstitutional based on candidates’ First Amendment right of free speech, as well as the speech of organizations who consider funding private candidates.

So how exactly does this infringe on a privately financed candidate’s constitutional rights?

The test to decide, according to Emily Ward, an Associated Students of the University of Arizona Supreme Court associate justice and a second year law student, is to see whether or not the provision has a “”chilling effect.”” This asks if someone is inhibited from doing something based on how a rule is, according to Ward.

“”This does to a certain extent,”” she said. “”It may deter them (a privately funded candidate) from getting extra financing, and I would presume that this would violate their free speech rights in a certain way.””

Ward said, this would be a “”tough call”” because arguments on both sides bring up valid points. She explained that the Arizona government has a legitimate objective to “”equal the playing field”” for candidates, which is to not let privately funded candidates dictate elections.

James Mitchell, a lawyer and a journalism assistant professor of practice, explained that opponents of the provision feel that their free speech rights are being violated because it forces the government to pay for the speech of an opposing candidate. It also infringes upon a candidate’s right not to speak and to not help someone else speak, according to Mitchell.

“”Rather than suggesting this will reduce speech (from candidates), it could reduce speech from people who have money,”” he said. This means that businesses and other potential contributors could find funding private candidates unattractive because it allows publicly funded candidates to receive more funds, he explained.  

Mitchell added that many are “”very skeptical”” of the notion that government has the authority to “”lower the playing field”” in order to help the underdog, which is not the government’s job. The government, he explained, is supposed to be neutral in any type of speech dispute, however the “”backers”” of the law feel that it creates a more neutral result.

Mitchell said that he expects the Supreme Court to find the law unconstitutional by a vote of 5-4.

In addition to the Supreme Court ruling, the U.S. House of Representatives will later vote on a Senate-approved decision asking voters to constitutionally ban the public funding of elections. This would overrule the Citizens Clean Elections Act entirely.

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