High Court Considers Plea to Block Ariz. Public Campaign Financing Program

June 7, 2010

Editor's Note: The Supreme Court issued an order in McComish v. Brewer yesterday blocking public financing for Arizona candidates. In what Adam Liptak of The New York Times described as "a terse unsigned order without dissents" the justices put in place a trial court injunction barring public funds from being distributed to candidates. "The Supreme Court's stay will probably remain in effect through the state's primary elections in August and the general election in November," Liptak writes.

Arizona officials urged the Supreme Court not to block its decade-old program of public campaign financing. In analysis for SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston writes that lawyers for the state argued that "publicly subsidized state political candidates in Arizona could be silenced if their access to official funds is cut off now ...." Recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld in McComish v. Brewer Arizona's public funding program, but opponents of the program have asked the high court to stay the release of the funds while it lodges an appeal. Denniston writes that the high court is "expected to make up its mind shortly on whether to step in at this point. Presumably, it will await a reply from the subsidy opponents before acting."

In an Issue Brief released late last week by ACS, the Brennan Center's Monica Youn notes that public financing systems like Arizona's is one way to counter the enormous flow of corporate dollars into elections following the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. Youn writes, "Public funding programs also have the potential to promote meaningful electoral participation by a diverse range of citizens." Youn, counsel in the Center's Democracy Program, however, also notes that the public financing systems have come under increasing attacks from some of the same individuals and groups who lodged the Citizens United lawsuit, which led to the high court's decision that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend freely in elections. Youn's Issue Brief is available here.