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Florida judge enjoins state campaign finance matching funds law

A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website] struck down a campaign finance [JURIST news archive] law providing matching funds for campaigns choosing to use public financing. The decision closely follows the recent 5-4 Supreme Court [official website] decision issued earlier this week in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] striking down a similar Arizona campaign finance law on First Amendment [text] grounds. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) [campaign website] filed the lawsuit during the Republican primary in which he was running against former attorney general Bill McCollum (R) [campaign website] who chose to use public financing. Scott argued the law violated his First Amendment rights [Miami Herald report] because it limited his campaign expenditures to $24.9 million since every dollar over would be matched in public funding for his opponent. Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that Florida must not enforce the law. He had previously granted a temporary injunction during the election preventing McCollum from receiving tax-payer funding. The law was a non-issue in the general election since Scott's competitor Alex Sink (D) [campaign website] also chose to forgo public financing. Scott spent over $70 million of his own money during the election.

In Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett the Supreme Court found that an Arizona matching funds law was unconstitutional, reasoning that such a scheme is substantially burdensome on the privately-funded candidates because it harms them for exercising First Amendment rights to raise and/or spend their own money on their campaign. The court further said that it has never held that the state's interest in leveling the playing field is enough to suppress or alter political speech. Last month, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a Minnesota campaign finance law prohibiting direct contributions to candidates and affiliated entities. In April, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] two challenges to campaign financing schemes for Wisconsin Supreme Court elections brought by groups arguing the schemes violate their First Amendment rights.

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