iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Fred Wertheimer

Fred Wertheimer

Posted: March 22, 2011 03:46 PM

RNC Attacks on Campaign Finance Laws Rejected by Supreme Court... Again


For the second time in less than a year the Supreme Court has rejected a challenge brought by the RNC to the federal campaign finance laws and to past Supreme Court rulings.

In Cao v. FEC, the Supreme Court yesterday denied a certiorari petition to review the case and left standing a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the federal limits on the amount that a political party can spend in coordination with a candidate.

In doing so, the Court left standing the Supreme Court's decision in the Colorado Republican II case (2001) that upheld the constitutionality of coordinated party spending limits.

Last June in RNC v FEC, the Court summarily affirmed a decision by a three-judge federal district court panel that upheld the constitutionality of the ban on unlimited, soft money contributions to political parties. The soft money ban is the main provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as the McCain-Feingold law.

In doing so, the Court left standing the Supreme Court decision in the McConnell case (2003) that upheld the constitutionality of the soft money ban.

These two decisions by the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of important federal campaign finance laws followed the disastrous Court decision in the Citizens United case in January 2010 that struck down the long-standing ban on corporate expenditures in federal campaigns.

Next Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in another campaign finance case, McComish v. Bennett, which involves a challenge to the constitutionality of the Arizona public financing law.

This is the first time the Court has heard a challenge to the constitutionality of public financing of elections since 1976 when it upheld the constitutionality of the presidential public financing system in Buckley v. Valeo.

The Court found in Buckley that public financing "furthers, not abridges, pertinent First Amendment values." The Court also found that "public financing as a means of eliminating the improper influence of large private contributions furthers a significant governmental interest."

The petitioners in the Arizona case have not asked the Court to re-visit these core holdings from the Buckley decision but instead are focused on a narrower issue.

The Arizona case presents the question of whether the amount of public funds provided to a candidate participating in the public financing system can be increased based on the level of campaign spending by an opponent who has chosen not to accept public financing. The Arizona public financing law was upheld as constitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Democracy 21 joined with the Campaign Legal Center in filing a Supreme Court amicus brief on behalf of reform groups defending the constitutionality of the Arizona law.

Some important public financing systems, like the Arizona system, and systems in Maine and New York City provide the additional matching trigger funds at issue in the McComish case.

Other systems, like the presidential public financing system and the system for Connecticut state races have functioned effectively without providing such matching trigger funds.

Bills to repair the presidential public financing system and to establish a new system of public financing for congressional races do not include the Arizona matching trigger fund provisions and are not expected to be affected by the Court's decision in McComish.

In the wake of the Citizens United decision unleashing corporate spending in campaigns, public financing of elections is the key to providing average citizens and small donors with a major role to play in financing our elections.

This Supreme Court has opened the door to a political system dominated by influence-seeking corporate spenders. The Court must not now interfere with the efforts of legislatures and citizens to provide candidates with an alternative way to finance their campaigns that relies on public funds and small donors, and not on political influence-money.

It is time for the Supreme Court to show deference to legislatures and citizens instead of America's corporations.

 

Follow Fred Wertheimer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FredWertheimer