The End of Public Financing?


The End of Public Financing?

By Mimi Murray Digby Marziani – 06/09/10

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an order that can only be described as irresponsible. About two months from the primary election and five months from the general, the Court blocked the state of Arizona from providing its publicly-funded candidates with so-called trigger funds – additional public grants triggered by the high spending of nonparticipating opponents or hostile third parties. The Court, ruling on an emergency motion, offered no explanation with its three-sentence order. And, the Court breaks for the summer in two weeks, so there is virtually no chance that this case will be decided on its merits until fall. By that time, of course, it will be too late for many of Arizona’s candidates, who – in some cases – will have to wage hyper-competitive electoral contests on one-third of the funding they originally anticipated.

In the aftermath, some are proclaiming the end of public funding programs writ large. The New York Times, for example, has sounded a death knell, predicting that “state finance programs [will] be the [C]ourt’s next conquest.” This story of demise is, however, greatly exaggerated.

Clearly, there is good reason to condemn the Court’s actions. But to decry the death of public financing is simply alarmist – and inaccurate. In fact, public funding of elections remains the constitutionally optimal way to curb political corruption. As the Supreme Court explained long ago in its famous Buckley v. Valeo decision, providing public money to finance campaigns “facilitate[s] and enlarge[s] public discussion and participation” and thus “furthers, not abridges, pertinent First Amendment values.”

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