High Court’s Conservative Wing, and its Drive to Protect Wealthy Candidates

April 12, 2011

The Supreme Court’s conservative wing appears bent on redefining politics by ensuring the wealthiest candidates are not hindered in their never-ending quest for political power. In its editorial, “Unfettered Money,” The New York Times notes that the conservative justices who invalidated major campaign finance regulations in Citizens United v. FEC appear united in their belief that money literally equals speech, and therefore campaign finance regulations are highly susceptible to being invalidated as unconstitutional restrictions on political speech.

Noting recent oral argument in a case challenging Arizona’s public campaign financing law, the editorial notes that the conservative bloc appears eager to invalidate it. The law provides public funding to candidates who agree to participate in the public financing system. The opponents of the law argue that Arizona is trying to undercut the speech of wealthy candidates, and during oral argument, The Times notes, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. agreed with that proposition.

The Times concludes:

That makes no sense. Arizona’s mechanism means more candidates – not just the wealthy – will be able to run in elections. And that means more political speech, not less. But that view depends on seeing money as enabling speech, not vice versa. Money already has far too much sway everywhere in politics. If the court continues this way, the damage and corruption will be enormous.

In a guest post for ACSblog, Rick Hasen, an election law expert and founder of Election Law Blog, wrote that an opinion invalidating Arizona’s law “is likely to take away one of the only tools available to drafters of public financing measures to make such financing attractive to candidates. Public financing has a number of benefits, including reducing the threat of corruption and the appearance of corruption, providing a jump start for new candidates who are not professional politicians, and freeing up candidates and officeholders to have more time to interact with voters.”