Hartford Courant, 18 June 2010, Ruling Means More Speech For Rich, Supreme Court: Rulings In latest activist decision, Connecticut-like reform is bushwhacked. It was bad enough that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that corporations and labor unions have the free-speech rights of people and can therefore pour unlimited amounts of money into political and issue campaigns.
That 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United case will tilt the election playing field in favor of concentrations of wealth. It will make it harder for the average candidate to be heard above the din of special-interest campaigning.
But the court majority apparently is not through with its assault on campaign finance reforms. These reforms include voluntary public financing systems at the state level that encourage more people to run for office — as in Connecticut. The reforms are also meant to depress the amount of special-interest money that comes with strings attached to the politicians it propels into federal office.
Earlier this month, the high court issued an emergency order slamming the brakes on a key part of Arizona’s voluntary public financing system.
Participating candidates for state office are given a base amount of public funding if they agree to spending limits. If their privately financed rivals outspend them, participants are given matching funds to keep them competitive. The law was challenged by privately financed candidates who claimed that the matching grants chilled their free-speech rights by inhibiting fund-raising. That’s a sick joke.
Nonetheless, a majority of justices blocked the distribution of matching funds in Arizona until they could decide whether to hear the case. That decision may not be made until after the November election. It will have implications for Connecticut.
The court didn’t need to shut down Arizona’s matching grants while it considers what to do. After all, the system has been in place for more than a decade. There is no emergency. The Supreme Court overreached in changing the rules in the middle of the campaign.
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, for example, was counting on a matching grant of an extra $1.4 million this month because a wealthy self-funding rival has already spent more than $2 million for the August primary. The court killed her matching funds. She’ll now have about $700,000 to finance her primary campaign.
The court’s radical fast-track actions give even more advantage to wealth and result in less political free speech, not more.