Supreme Court strikes down Arizona matching funds campaign law

The Supreme Court on Monday axed an Arizona campaign finance law that provided additional taxpayer money to in-state candidates outspent by well-funded opponents and independent political groups.

In a split 5-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying that the 1998 Citizens Clean Elections Act stifled free speech in political campaigns. 

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"We hold that Arizona’s matching funds scheme substantially burdens protected political speech without serving a compelling state interest and therefore violates the First Amendment," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority.

The court's ruling represents another blow to campaign finance laws that place restrictions or oversight on political spending. In 2009, the court knocked down limits on political contributions by corporations and unions in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

The Arizona law allowed political candidates to voluntarily forfeit their right to raise unlimited sums from private donors for public funding with certain restrictions.

In the two challenges before the court on the Arizona law, Justices Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia comprised the majority. Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.

Kagan, writing for the dissenting justices, said that the Arizona program helped root out corruption and give equal opportunity for all political candidates to state their case to voters.

"The First Amendment’s core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant political system full of robust discussion and debate. Nothing in Arizona’s anti-corruption statute, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, violates this constitutional protection," she wrote. "To the contrary, the act promotes the values underlying both the First Amendment and our entire Constitution by enhancing the 'opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people.' "

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