Flawed taxpayer-funded judicial campaigns bill introduced in Washington state

Members of the Washington state House of Representatives introduced a bill providing for taxpayer funding of supreme court campaigns today. The bill would do nothing to end any real or perceived corruption in the election of judges, would stifle campaign speech by candidates and citizens, and includes a so-called ‘rescue provision’ that is almost certain to be struck down in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling.

“This proposal to allow candidates to raid the public treasury in the name of cleaning up the political process is deeply flawed,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “These programs have failed wherever they have been tried, and the “rescue” provision that gives extra funds to candidates who are outspent or criticized by independent citizen groups is designed to limit the speech of those who chose not to or are not allowed to use taxpayer dollars to fund their political speech.”

Taxpayer financing of campaigns does not limit the ability of organized interest groups to support favored candidates, and actually increases their support. In Arizona, where a similar program exists for legislative and statewide candidates, interest groups routinely collect the needed qualifying contributions, leading to candidates that are just as grateful to interest groups as if they had simply made a direct contribution. These schemes also benefit incumbents by limiting the total dollars available to participating candidates, making it more difficult for a challenger to compete with an incumbent who already has broad name recognition and years of press coverage.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Davis v. FEC has been interpreted even by prominent advocates of taxpayer financed campaigns to mean that rescue fund provisions are unconstitutional. Based upon the Davis decision, U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver issued a preliminary decision last fall in McCormish v. Brewer, indicating that the matching funds provision of the Arizona Clean Elections Law “violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution” by using the weight of government money to punish challengers who raise private contributions or use their own money to fund their campaigns. The judge has yet to issue a final ruling.

The Washington state legislation, House Bill 1738, is available by following this link:

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2009-10/Pdf/Bills/House%20Bills/1738.pdf

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.