SCOTUS Returns to Politics and Money

Just over a year after the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court is about to delve into politics and money again, this time taking up the constitutionality of Arizona's public finance system for state candidates:

The subsidy system that the Justices are now ready to review was, in fact, believed to be a reform measure when Arizona’s voters narrowly approved it (by a 51-49 percent margin) in a statewide initiative in 1998.  After a series of scandals over financing of state campaigns, resulting, among other woes, in criminal prosecution of two governors and a number of state legislators, voters went to the polls to vote on a measure titled the “Clean Elections Act.” Backers promoted the Act with a pamphlet arguing that the Act would free politicians to represent the public’s interest, and not just the interests of those who gave large contributions to their campaigns.  The pamphlet tied the Act directly to the recent scandals, saying that the cycle of campaign finance abuse had seemed endless.

The Act went into effect in 2000, and as many as two-thirds of state candidates thereafter have opted into the subsidy system.  The system was used in every state election after 2000 — until the elections of last November, after the system had been blocked by a temporary vote of the Supreme Court last June 8.

The "Clean Elections Act" is complicated -- but not unwieldy -- to understand, especially when you dig into various trigger and counter-trigger mechanisms enacted by the campaign sending choices of wealthy self-funded candidates.  But that's not where those challenging the law are focused.  Both proponents and opponents of the law are making a similar argument: this is about free speech. 

Opponents aim at a specific trigger mechanism in which a candidate can ask for a subsidy if a self-financed opponent's (including independent "supporting groups") spending reaches a certain level, arguing this would encourage a self-financed candidate to keep their spending below that ceilling, "limiting" their free speech.  Proponents of the law argue this mechanism levels the playing field fairly.  Self-funded candidates are still free to out spend, but as they do, their opponents qualify for (but aren't forced to request) additional (but not equal in dollar amount) subsidies.

In a follow up post, SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston points out that in Monday's oral arguments, at least one Justice is already foreshadowing the precarious future of the system:

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who definitely seems to hold the deciding vote on the newest test of the Supreme Court’s skepticism about campaign finance laws, made repeated comments on Monday suggesting that he is very wary of Arizona’s attempt to offset the impact of wealthy candidates paying their own way.  Among a variety that could be noted, no remark was more telling than what seemed almost to be a rhetorical question: “Do you think it would be a fair characterization of this law to say that its purpose and its effect are to produce less speech in political campaigns?”

I'm not informed enough on it to argue the Arizona model is a perfect or flawed system for better election process, but in Citizens United, the court declared it was "discriminatory" to limit "free speech" based on the "identity" of the spender.  I'd expect them to take the same position here ensuring another win for billionaires buying up elections.

The Conversation (with poll!)

A Real Democrat is sitting in a cafe drinking a mocha latte and reading The Nation when a Concern Troll walks in. The Concern Troll is busily wringing his hands while his eyes furtively glance about--he has a very worried look on his face. He approaches the Real Democrat and The Conversation begins below the fold.

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Why I still do not buy the Obama hype

A few days ago I received a mail soliciting contributions from Obama. My friends here think that he is purer than driven snow, that he has the highest priorities of Americans and civil liberties on his agenda. Yet if the last two days have shown anything that he is just the same old politician playing the old game in a new garb.

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Obama Backs Away From A "Broken System"

Please take note that this is not a partisan piece of writing. I am hoping to write articles regularly and post them for all sides to read, think about and throw in their two cents. From all sides, right, left, center, think of this and postings-to-be as stimuli for this particular sectors perspective. Quite simply, I love to write. I'm young, just out of high school and am looking to exercise my brain, creativity and work to constantly improve my writing all together as fun and imperative preparation for college and my future as a whole. I'm pumped, you're all pumped, so let's give this a whirl!

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Barack Obama Will Not Opt Into Public Financing System

There will be a lot to talk about with regards to this big and extremely important decision, but I first wanted to get it up as soon as possible: Barack Obama will not be participating in the public financing program during the general election.

This is important for a number of reasons:

  • 50-state campaign: Because elections are expensive and not enough American taxpayers check the box to contribute to the public financing program, presidential campaigns tend to get waged in a dozen or fewer states. These swing states get the attention not only because they are competitive on a partisan sense but also because with $75 million or even $85 million to spend over two months, there just aren't enough resources to run all around the country. So as a result of this decision, Obama will be able to compete in significantly more states, seriously contesting not only the traditional swing states but also emerging ones like Virginia, North Carolina, Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Nebraska (or at least the eastern part of it for one to two electoral votes), Montana, and others -- states that the Republicans have been able to rely on in the past but will not be allowed to take for granted this year.

  • Saying No to McCain's Shenanigans: John McCain opted into the public financing program during the primaries, received a material benefit (according to an FEC complaint filed by the Democratic National Committee), then unilaterally pulled out of the program without the agreement of the FEC when he thought it would suit him. By deciding not to opt into the public financing program in the general election, Obama is saying no to the type of cynical gamesmanship of campaign finance law that McCain has undertaken during this campaign.

  • Calling McCain's Bluff: McCain was hoping to tie Obama's hands behind his back by forcing him to opt into the public financing program -- while McCain would still rely heavily on the RNC to finance his efforts. What's more, with the proliferation of 527 organizations willing to say anything and everything to tar Democrats, not the least of which Obama, had Obama opted into the program he would have been hampered in efforts to rightfully defend himself from smears. But Obama didn't fall for McCain's game -- he called the bluff, forcing McCain to show that his real priority in trying to force this election into the public financing program was not reform but rather ambition to be elected President.

Those are just my initial thoughts. What think you?

Read the whole script below the fold...

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