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Supreme Court temporarily blocks Arizona election subsidies

The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday issued an order [text, PDF] temporarily blocking the state of Arizona from releasing campaign subsidies to publicly funded candidates under the state's campaign finance reform law [Title 16, Chapter 6, Article 2]. The order comes after the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] overturned the district court's ruling and upheld the financing system [opinion, PDF] and temporarily prohibits the Ninth Circuit's ruling from going into effect. The release of subsides will remain barred until the court rules on the case or denies certiorari. The Citizens Clean Election Act was passed by Arizona voters in 1998 in order to encourage candidates for public office to accept public funding in the hopes of decreasing corruption in the form of campaign contributions in exchange for political favors. Under the law, publicly funded candidates are eligible for funds to match the amount privately financed opponents are spending on political campaigns. Supporters of the law contend that it actually increases freedom of speech [press release] in the political discourse, while opponents say the law stifles speech [AP report] decreasing overall campaign spending. The groups challenging the law are expected to appeal the Ninth Circuit's ruling. The court is not expected to determine if it will hear the case until the fall term, which means the campaign subsidies will be unavailable for publicly funded candidates for the remainder of the 2010 election cycle.

Limits on First Amendment [text] freedom of speech in the context of campaign finance [JURIST news archive] remains an area of much debate. In March, the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the Republican National Committee (RNC) [committee website] cannot raise "soft money" to use in state elections. In January, the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [Cornell LII backgrounder] to ease restrictions on political campaign spending [JURIST report] by corporations. US President Barack Obama criticized the ruling and called for new campaign finance legislation [JURIST reports] which would set low limits on dollar contributions to federal candidates, enhance disclosure rules that apply to lobbyists and earmark requests, and close the loopholes opened by Citizens United pertaining to corporate political campaign spending.

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