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Nebraska Supreme Court strikes down campaign finance law

The Supreme Court of Nebraska [official website] on Friday struck down [opinion, PDF] a state campaign finance law that contributes state money to certain political candidates in order to lessen financial disparity among candidates. Under the law, candidates for certain public offices could voluntarily accept additional oversight in exchange for public financing [Neb Rev Stat § 1604], the levels of which may vary depending on the expenditures of privately-financed opponents. The court found that the law violated the free speech rights of political opponents who opt to spend over the limit and therefore do not receive funding. The Nebraska court noted in its decision that Attorney General Jon Bruning [official website] had issued an advisory opinion [text, PDF; JURIST report] last August drawing marked parallels between the state's campaign finance laws and portions of similar Arizona regulations that had been recently overturned [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court [official website]. The court agreed with Bruning, finding that the state had not offered any additional compelling interest to distinguish its law from the Arizona law that was struck down by the Supreme Court.

In June 2011 the Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett [Cornell LII backgrounder] that an Arizona campaign finance regulation that provided publicly financed candidates with additional government subsidies, triggered by independent expenditure groups' speech against such candidates or by the candidates' privately financed opponents, violates the First Amendment [text]. The court held 5-4 that such a system substantially burdens political speech and is not sufficiently justified by a compelling state interest to satisfy the First Amendment. Counsel for the respondent argued that "public funding of elections results in more speech and more electoral competition" and furthers a governmental interest of staving off "real and apparent corruption in politics."

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