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Guest opinion

Will Supreme Court let government favor taxpayer-funded candidates?

The Goldwater Institute has fought Arizona's Clean Elections system all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to ask one basic question: Can the state manipulate the political game to silence privately-financed candidates and drive them out of elections in favor of government-funded candidates?

The Court answered "no"last June, at least temporarily, when it suspended the matching funds portion of Arizona's system. But the Court's extraordinary intervention was not the last word, as that action came nearly six months before the Court accepted the Goldwater Institute's lawsuit for review, as well as a second case from the Institute for Justice. Only after the Court hears oral arguments Monday in Washington, D.C., will the question finally be answered for good.

The matching funds component of Arizona's system is clearly designed to hobble candidates who project their campaign messages to the public in the traditional manner, supported by private donations and personal funds. For every dollar raised or spent by a traditional candidate, the state awards nearly a dollar in subsidies to each opposing government-funded candidate. That means when a traditional candidate faces three government-funded candidates, every dollar he spends will trigger nearly three dollars in government subsidies to oppose him.

Likewise, if independent political groups do anything other than oppose traditional candidates, the state will award nearly a dollar in subsidies to each competing government-funded candidate for every dollar they spend. The government thus systematically encourages independent groups to oppose traditional candidates.

It is very dangerous business for the government to manipulate elections in this way. The electoral process is supposed to check government power. A system that silences traditional candidates in order to expand opportunities for government-funded candidates cannot check government power. For the sake of free speech and the integrity of the electoral system, the Supreme Court must finally stop Arizona from picking winners and losers.

Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.

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