Supreme Court Strikes Down ‘Matching Funds’ Provision

Alexandria, Va. — Today, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC et al. v Bennett (also known as McComish v. Bennett)striking down key provisions of the Arizona Clean Elections Act (ACEA).  The Act created tax-financed campaigns for those participating in the state-run program, and was challenged on the grounds that its “matching funds” provision ultimately chilled free speech and was in violation of the First Amendment.

The ruling is consistent with similar Supreme Court rulings over the past several years.  In 2008, the Court ruled in Davis v. FEC that “leveling the playing field” for candidates did not justify asymmetrical contribution limits triggered by one candidate’s spending their own funds in support of their campaign.

“The Supreme Court got it right today – it is not the state’s business to favor some candidates by giving them additional money when they risk being criticized or outspent,” said Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) Vice President of Policy Allison Hayward.  “Keeping campaign and state separate is vital if our system of government is to flourish, and this ruling moves us closer to that ideal.”

Arizona’s matching funds provision was found to chill free speech because the state allocates additional funds to candidates based on the spending of their opponents or independent groups.  Candidates and independent groups were effectively punished by the state for spending money to get their message out to the voting public.

“These programs of tax financed political campaigns have failed to achieve their goals wherever they’ve been implemented,” said Sean Parnell, president of CCP. “This latest ruling by the Court is one more nail in the coffin of so-called ‘reformers’ efforts to have government-managed political speech, something wholly contrary to the First Amendment.”

The implications of this decision will be felt in other states as well.  Connecticut, Maine, West Virginia, and Wisconsin also have “matching funds” provisions similar to Arizona’s.

“We are excited to see these unjust, unfair programs that stifle speech be struck down,” said Parnell.  “This is an important victory for our democracy.”

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