(CN) – Arizona’s system of providing public matching funds to political candidates who eschew private donations does not violate the First Amendment, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.
The three-judge panel unanimously upheld the state’s publicly funded Clean Elections system, overturning a federal judge’s ruling for opponents, including several Republican candidates.
Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Act, approved by voters in 1998, allows candidates who collect between 100 and 4,000 $5 donations from constituents, depending on the office, to receive a lump sum of public money if they agree not to accept money from special-interest groups. They can then qualify for more public money if an opponent running as a traditional candidate spends more money than the Clean Elections candidate initially received.
In 2008, Goldwater Institute sued on behalf of Republican candidates, including state Treasurer Dean Martin, Sen. Bob Burns, Rep. John McComish and Rep. Nancy McLain. They said the system forced them to rein in their own spending to avoid triggering additional matching funds for their Clean Elections opponents. They claimed this effectively chilled their freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment.
The San Francisco-based appellate panel disagreed, saying matching funds place a “minimal burden” on First Amendment rights.
“The state must walk a fine line between providing too much and too little funding to participating candidates, and we cannot conclude that the Act’s matching funds provision has failed in this effort,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Andrew Kleinfeld said the public financing scheme “imposes no limitations whatsoever on a candidate’s speech.”
The plaintiffs seek to halt the disbursal of any matching funds pending their appeal to the Supreme Court.
Candidates are scheduled to begin receiving matching funds next month.