Supreme Court Disturbing Ruling Will Limit Robust Political Debate
Hartford Courant Editorial
July 12, 2011
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last week invalidating certain grants to publicly funded candidates was regrettable. It will inhibit robust political debate in elections rather than promote it.
The effect of this ruling, as with the infamous Citizens United case that allows certain special interests to spend as much as they want, will be to drown out the political speech of candidates with modest means.
Arizona - like Connecticut - has provided candidates for state office in publicly financed campaigns an extra grant of money if their self-financed opponents' spending exceeded certain levels.
But by 5-4, the high court majority argued - unpersuasively, in our book - that such a trigger provision punished self-funding candidates and was a restraint on their political speech.
In so deciding, the court majority proved itself hostile to campaign finance reforms that try to level the playing field on which rich and poor candidates compete, that attract more candidates into the fray, and that discourage corruption in politics.
Connecticut's trigger provision was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit last year in the middle of the gubernatorial campaign. The General Assembly then met in special session to expand the basic general election grant from $3 million to $6 million for candidates running for governor and participating in this state's Citizens Election Program.
But that's an imperfect solution, as Justice Elena Kagan suggested in her dissenting opinion in the Arizona case. Without an incremental system, she said, basic grants that are too low put participants in the public financing system at a disadvantage and grants that are too high waste public resources. "The difficulty, then, is in finding the Goldilocks solution - not too large, not too small, but just right."
The court's activist conservative majority threw out Goldilocks - and with it the heart of reforms that hold the promise of cleaning up politics.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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