Jacob Sullum

After the initiative passed, the Clean Elections Institute, an organization devoted to defending it, explained the importance of these "disincentives" in an internal document. "A traditional candidate may think twice about raising additional funds in a race against a Clean Elections candidate," it said, since "for every dollar raised above the base amount, the CE candidate is matched. ... With the Clean Elections matching funds system, it can be argued that millions of dollars in spending never takes place."

Unfortunately for the law's supporters, the Supreme Court has rejected both limits on spending and manipulation of the candidate mix as rationales for campaign finance regulation. The one rationale it has accepted -- preventing corruption -- cannot justify the Clean Elections scheme, which provides countervailing subsidies in response to spending by self-financed candidates and independent groups as well as spending funded by donations. In any case, Arizona has strict limits on campaign contributions.

The goals and essential features of Arizona's Clean Elections system are similar to those of the so-called Millionaire's Amendment, a provision of federal law that raised contribution limits for congressional candidates facing wealthy, self-financed opponents. The Supreme Court overturned that rule in 2008, concluding that it imposed an unjustified burden on freedom of speech. If anything, Arizona's system -- which provides actual money, not just permission to take more of it from each donor -- is even more objectionable.

The likely demise of Arizona's law does not mean that public financing in general is unconstitutional. But at a time of fiscal reckoning, the last thing the government should be doing with taxpayer money is funding candidates who prefer forcibly extracting subsidies from their fellow citizens to seeking their voluntary support.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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