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State defends election subsidies

UPDATE 4;35 p.m.   Briefing on the latest challenge to the Arizona election subsidies scheme was completed Monday afternoon with the filing of a reply brief by challengers to that system.  Thus, the Court is free to act at any time on the request to block the release of subsidy funds later this month.


Arguing that publicly subsidized state political candidates in Arizona could be silenced if their access to official funds is cut off now, the state of Arizona urged the Supreme Court on Monday to allow those matching grants to go out as scheduled later this month.  A number of candidates, the state argued, are already committed to running with subsidies, and could not now try to fund their campaign efforts by turning to private donations.  The Supreme Court is considering a plea by subsidy opponents to block the funds’ release until they can appeal the issue of their constitutionality.

The candidates who have opted to take part in the state’s publicly funded program, the state said, will have as much as two-thirds of their campaign treasuries provided by state funds.  Their rival candidates, depending on private money, “hope to silence their publicly funded opponents” by shutting down the program now.   The rivals have tried six times, the state noted, to get lower courts to block the funding, and have failed each time.  The Court should not do so in the face of harm that subsidized candidates would undergo, while their rivals are not penalized in any way for depending upon private funds only, according to the state’s new filing.

Unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise, the state plans to issue the first significant round of subsidies on June 22; a federal judge’s order striking down the payments is on hold, under a temporary order of the Ninth Circuit Court.  The Circuit Court has upheld the subsidy scheme, but has not yet issued its mandate to put that decision into effect formally. The Supreme Court is expected to make up its mind shortly on whether to step in at this point.  Presumably, it will await a reply from the subsidy opponents before acting.

The pending emergency plea for relief in McComish, et al., v. Bennett, et al. (application 09A1163) is the third request to the Court by the challengers. The Clean Elections Institute, Inc., joining in the case, also asked the Court on Monday not to interfere with the funds release this month.  To illustrate the effect of an order blocking the state money for candidates taking part in the program, the Institute said that Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who is a publicly funded candidate, would be able to receive only $707,447 in public funds if the scheme were interrupted now, down from $2,122,341, the amount she is eligible to receive.  Already, the Institute said, Brewer’s privately funded opponent, Buz Mills, has already spent more than the total Brewer could receive.