by Jim Nintzel
Congressman Raul Grijalva reacts to the Supreme Court decision knocking down matching funds for Arizona's Clean Elections candidates:
The Supreme Court earlier today struck down a major portion of Arizona’s campaign finance law granting public funds to candidates whose privately funded opponents spend more than a certain amount during the course of the campaign. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called the decision “a troubling sign that wealth now decides how much free speech you get.”
The Court, in an ideologically divided 5-4 decision in Arizona Free Enterprise et al. v Bennett, ruled that Arizona’s attempt to establish parity in campaign financing is unconstitutional because it punishes or sometimes prevents political expression. Such a law, the majority said, violates individuals’ and corporations’ ability to speak freely about their political views because they might not want an opponent to receive additional money. The dissent, written by Justice Elena Kagan, notes that “what [the plaintiffs] demand is essentially the right to quash others’ speech through the prohibition of a (universally available) subsidy program.”
The decision, Grijalva said, will reduce the number of qualified people running for office because they can no longer respond to barrages of attack ads with public campaign funds. According to Reuters, about two-thirds of Arizona state candidates use the current public financing system. “Who wants that many Arizonans to decide they can no longer ask for our votes simply because they’re not wealthy?” Grijalva said.
Grijalva pointed out that the Arizona law in no way prohibits any individual or group from buying advertising or otherwise communicating a political stance or opinion. “All the state said was that money shouldn’t be the determining factor in an election, and today the Supreme Court decided otherwise,” he said. “It’s part of a larger pattern that began with the ideological Citizens United ruling, which has made it impossible to fix what ails our political process. As soon as you decide a corporation is a person, with all the rights we’re granted as free citizens, you’ve turned government into a contest of corporate interests versus popular interests, and corporations always have more to spend than individuals.”
Grijalva said the logic of today’s decision is more about who influences elections than a plain reading of the First Amendment. “While the court majority described this as a matter of free speech, we should talk about the real issue: corporate control of the political process,” Grijalva said. “Working people’s voices continue to be drowned out by well financed corporations with expert marketing strategies. The Framers of our Constitution never meant for wealthy companies or individuals with their own agendas to drown out the rest of us in public debate, especially not by outspending us.”