Clean Elections Law Deemed Constitutional by 9th Circuit; Goldwater Institute Attorneys Expect Supreme Court to Intervene

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Arizona's controversial Clean Elections Law got a new lease on life when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling of the U.S. District Court in Phoenix, which found the law to be unconstitutional.

The three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the law does not violate the Constitution and only presents "minimal burden" on First Amendment rights.

A little background from one of our prior posts on the law: In Arizona's Clean Elections system, candidates may receive government funding for their political campaigns as long as they meet some basic requirements. But candidates may also choose to raise money in traditional ways, by hitting up donors or using their own money. If a Clean candidate faces a well-funded opponent, the Clean candidate has traditionally been given a subsidy to "level" the playing field.

In 2008, the Goldwater Institute sued on behalf of Republican candidates Dean Martin, then running for state treasurer; state Senator Bob Burns and state representatives John McComish and Representative Nancy McLain --  who said the law forced them to refrain from raising money out of fear that it would trigger additional matching funds for their opponents running as clean elections candidates.

The Goldwater Institute argued that candidates' freedom of speech was hindered by the law and that their first amendment rights were violated.  

The 9th Circuit disagreed.

"The state must walk a fine line between providing too much and too little funding to participating candidates, and we cannot conclude that the Act's matching funds provision has failed in this effort," Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote in the decision.

The next stop for Arizona's Clean Elections Law could be the U.S. Supreme Court. Goldwater attorney Nick Dranias tells New Times he expects High Court justices won't be "too impressed" with the 9th Circuit's decision.

Dranias says he expects the Supreme Court to intervene should it decide to hear the case.
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