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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Richly represented

American political history is littered with examples of wealthy individuals who bankrolled relatively successful campaigns. The most glaring example is Ross Perot, a Texas electronics mogul who ran for president as an Independent candidate in 1992 and 1996 and in the latter election received the second-highest percentage of the popular vote for a third-party candidate in American history, trailing only Teddy Roosevelt during his “”Bull Moose”” run in 1912.

Yet, how many times has an average citizen of average per capita income won an election of national importance in the United States?

Such candidates, rare as they may be, are about to become an endangered species in Arizona.

Under the 1998 Clean Elections law, Arizona candidates who chose to run publicly financed campaigns were entitled to matching funds from the state if they were outspent by their privately-provided-for rivals throughout the course of the election. The reasoning of such a law is clear: It keeps the Arizona political system from becoming a hierarchical hegemony of highbrows, where governmental seats are auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued a stay in funding received in this manner for the 2010 elections in Arizona, leaving the door open for a full review of the policy at a later date.

The reason given for this decision is the same as was provided in January, when the same Supreme Court overturned long-standing precedent barring corporate funds from being used in candidate elections, effectively extending First Amendment protections to privately owned companies. In both instances, the court declared that existing case law inhibited the free speech of involved parties in such a way that was intolerable.

Whether you believe a corporation should have the same rights as an individual is a matter of opinion. But to deny campaign funds to those who cannot afford to bankroll a political campaign does not expand the franchise of free speech; rather, it severely mitigates the ability of an ordinary citizen to mount a successful candidature, as is his or her right. Not to mention the fact that this decision comes in the middle of several hotly contested campaigns in Arizona where candidates were counting on these funds in order to mount effective campaigns. Such is the case with Gov. Jan Brewer who, at last tally, had raised a third as much money as her Republican primary opponent, Buz Mills, despite receiving more than $700,000 in matching funds before the court’s ruling.

This is not to say that the Clean Elections legislation is political rhetoric worthy of Rousseau or Jefferson. It does, however, take great strides toward the admirable goal of extending the right to seek and hold political office to those who otherwise would never have the opportunity to do so. It also provides a hefty second edge to the sword, banning any candidate who elects to receive public funding from securing any form of private funding, reducing the likelihood of well-established candidates abusing the system at taxpayers’ expense.

To deny people that right on the pretext that those who are wealthy and well-known enough to secure private campaign financing have their free speech rights infringed upon by this legislation is as laughable as it is illogical. Rather than upholding the franchise of free speech for beleaguered billionaires and much-maligned millionaires, the Court is applying a mercantile approach to the issue, elevating the already substantial platform given to wealthy candidates at the expense of those who are in the most dire need of protection against infringement on their rights.

Arizona lawmakers should sit and discuss how best to apply the admirable goals of this legislation in such a way that they can apply to a wider cross-section of potential candidates and ensure that not being well-to-do does not limit what you are able to do.

— Luke Money is a journalism junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

 

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