HARTFORD – The United States Supreme Court has granted a petition supported by the Yankee Institute and will review a free speech case challenging the constitutionality of giving taxpayer money to political candidates.
“The U.S. Supreme Court accepts less than two percent of cases appealed to it, so the Court’s decision to take this case for review is a big deal with national implications,” said Fergus Cullen, Executive Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, which supported the petition with an amicus brief.
The case, McComish v. Bennett, challenges an Arizona campaign finance law that uses public funds to “level the playing field” among candidates by providing them with equal financial resources. The case specifically challenges so-called “matching grants.” More broadly, the case challenges the idea that the government has any compelling interest in ensuring candidates have equal resources, the premise of many so-called “Clean Elections” laws around the country.
“Connecticut’s system of taxpayer-funded elections remains constitutionally suspect, despite the legislature’s eleventh-hour changes made last summer,” Cullen said. “Connecticut’s campaign finance law uses public funds to punish candidates the government thinks are speaking too much and to subsidize other candidates the government thinks are speaking too little. In the name of ‘leveling the playing field,’ the state is in fact tipping the playing field for or against some candidates in a way that affects the outcome of elections. We at the Yankee Institute believe the government has no compelling interest in interfering with the outcome of elections in this way,” Cullen said.
Gov.-elect Dan Malloy, a Democrat, and Lt. Gov. Mike Fedele, a Republican, received matching grants worth $1.25 million each for their respective gubernatorial primary campaigns earlier this year through Connecticut’s Citizen Elections Program despite a Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision ruling such grants violate the Constitution. Gov.-elect Malloy ended up receiving $8.5 million in taxpayer funds for his successful campaign. Other statewide and legislative candidates received millions in taxpayer funds for their campaigns this year.
The McComish case has been consolidated with a similar case, Freedom Club PAC. The Goldwater Institute of Arizona and the Institute for Justice are leading the court challenge. The Yankee Institute expects to continue supporting their arguments on an amicus basis. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the McComish case next spring and to issue a ruling in the case by June, 2011.
The Supreme Court’s order granting the writ of certiorari (page 4): http://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/112910zor.pdf
The Yankee Institute’s amicus brief in the case: http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Brief-10-21-10-122843.pdf
McComish case background: http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/case/68