McComish v. Bennett
For over a decade, Arizona's unique voter-enacted Citizens' Clean Elections Act has promoted free speech and helped combat corruption in Arizona government. Now the Act, which is the only alternative to the corruption inherent in large, private, political contributions, is being challenged by those who want private industry and its money to control our state. The Center is representing Arizona's Clean Elections Institute in the United States Supreme Court to fight to retain this critical law.
Arizona's Clean Elections Act was passed in 1998 after one of the worst state-level corruption scandals in this nation's history. In the early 1990s, state elected officials were caught on tape accepting campaign contributions and bribes in exchange for agreeing to support gambling legislation.
Candid quotes from legislators such as "We all have our prices," "I sold way too cheap," and "There's not an issue in this world I give [expletive] about" fostered widespread perception of political corruption, even among state capitol insiders.
After the scandal, 100% of journalists, 66% of legislative staffers, and 42% of legislators and lobbyists believed that most major campaign contributions received special advantages from legislators.
This lawsuit was brought by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a group that professes to vigorously oppose policies that hinder private industry. By opposing Arizona's Clean Elections Act, the Free Enterprise Club apparently believes that reducing political corruption will "hinder" private industry.
In its court filings, the group argues that the Act somehow limits free speech even though the Act in no way limits campaign contributions from private sources. Indeed, the very purpose of the Act is to promote more, not less, free speech by improving the integrity of Arizona state government and encouraging citizen participation in the political process.
The district court's January 2010 ruling in favor of the Free Enterprise Club was reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in May. However, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit decision and affirmed the district court's decision ruling that the matching provision of the Clean Elections Act violate the First Amendment. The Court's decision left the other provisions of the Act intact.