States Weigh Steps After Public Finance Ruling

In the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a public campaign financing provision in Arizona, states with similar laws are weighing their next steps.

North Carolina became the first state, in 2002, to provide full public financing for judicial campaigns. It has a provision like the “trigger funds” mechanism that was voided by the Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab).

Successes of North Carolina’s systems were spotlighted in a Greensboro News & Record blog: “Before public financing, a couple of chief justice candidates — Henry Frye and Bev Lake — each spent in the ballpark of $1 million in 2000. Now most statewide judicial candidates are taking public funding of around $250,000. Even better, there hasn’t been a flood of special-interest money barging into the picture, either.”

If North Carolina’s law is successfully challenged in court, or if the legislature moves the mechanism from existing law, there may be a “crippling effect” on public financing, the blog suggested.

A different view was offered by Damon Circosta, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, in a Burlington Times News report.  “The public financing system will continue,” he said. “Just matching funds will not be available.”

Circosta, whose group is a JAS partner, told North Carolina News Network, “It won’t make a big difference either which way on who decides to opt-in to public financing and who does not,” He added, “I’m still thinking we’re going to see robust participation from candidates from all across the political spectrum – incumbents, challengers, men, women.”

North Carolina House Majority Leader Paul Stam said lawmakers should consider getting rid of the judicial campaign finance program, to comply with the Supreme Court decision. “It’s been silencing speech for about 6-7 years in blatantly unconstitutional way,” he said.

In other states, West Virginia’s top elections officer was reviewing the high court ruling and consulting with lawmakers and others, according to an Associated Press article; and a Portland (Maine) Press Herald article was entitled, “Campaign finance law fixes needed in Maine after high court ruling.”

The court’s ruling came in a case called Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett. It continues to fuel national debate.

The Washington Post editorialized, “High court deals public campaign financing a heavy blow.” On the same newspaper’s op-ed page, George Will wrote a commentary entitled, “A Supreme Court win for political speech and political money.” In STLtoday.com, an editorial declared, “Supreme Court further unburdens wealthy candidates.”

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