Yesterday the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an important ruling (.pdf) for First Amendment rights, striking down Connecticut’s unconstitutional “matching funds” law in the case of Green Party of Connecticut v. Garfield. The court specifically rejected the Ninth Circuit’s decision in McComish v. Bennett that refused to strike down Arizona’s largely identical matching funds scheme. The Institute for Justice, which has been challenging Arizona’s law in McComish, wrote a friend-of-the-court brief (.pdf) in the Second Circuit in support of the victorious Green Party.
As we’ve described previously on this blog, matching funds discourage privately funded candidates and outside groups from speaking because, if those groups spend more than a certain amount on political speech, the government starts cutting checks directly to their government-financed opponents. The Second Circuit’s ruling deepens a split among the federal courts of appeals on whether matching funds are constitutional, making it all the more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will grant IJ’s forthcoming appeal in the McComish case.
If the Supreme Court takes on the issue—as it should—matching funds will likely be held unconstitutional. And that’s not just our opinion—as the Associated Press reports, even so-called “reformers” are starting to look for alternatives:
“The handwriting was on the wall with the trigger provisions” when the Supreme Court made its ruling [temporarily halting Arizona’s matching funds], said Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president for state operations at Common Cause and a Connecticut resident. “They signaled that they don't like trigger provisions and they're on their way out.”
Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based public financing advocacy group, said there are other ways to help publicly financed candidates who face wealthy opponents.
We will continue to keep our readers updated as we move towards appealing McComish to the Supreme Court.