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A World Gone Topsy-Turvy



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A World Gone Topsy-Turvy

On Monday this week, the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional an Arizona public campaign financing law that linked the amount of money available to candidates using public financing to the amount spent by their wealthy opponents. The Arizona law is similar to Connecticut’s campaign finance system, which made supplemental grants available to candidates who were facing well-heeled candidates in statewide races in 2010.

Here in Connecticut, the system helped finance the candidacies of Democrat Dannel P. Malloy and Republican Michael C. Fedele. They were facing opponents, first in primaries, and in Mr Malloy’s case in the general election, who were willing to spend millions of dollars of their own money to secure their election. The system, which leveled the playing field enough for Mr Malloy to compete and narrowly win, must now be filed on the shelf of historical Connecticut curios in the category of Yankee Ingenuity or perhaps Extinct Species.

The 5-4 decision was supported by the same conservative bloc of justices that last year opened the door to unfettered corporate spending in federal elections in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — a ruling that accorded corporations the same First Amendment Rights as individuals.  Now the court has seen fit to fetter the spending of candidates who might challenge the favored candidates of corporations, labor unions, and special interest groups in the name of free speech. The matching funds provisions of public finance laws like Arizona’s — and Connecticut’s — “inhibit robust and wide-open political debate,” according to Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion in the case.

The inhibition, according to the opponents of the Arizona law, comes when the privately financed spending of one candidate so completely outpaces the public spending of an opponent that supplemental public grants kick in, thereby penalizing the privately financed campaign. But as Justice Elena Kagan noted in her dissent, “The state does not jail them, fine them, or subject them to any kind of lesser disability,” adding, “Except in a world gone topsy-turvy, additional campaign speech and electoral competition is not a First Amendment injury.”

If the old political maxim is true, that money is the mother’s milk of politics, the current US Supreme Court seems intent creating an entire political class of orphans through rulings like this week’s Arizona case and Citizens United. If you don’t have unlimited personal wealth, if you aren’t financed by the agenda-driven money machine of a special interest PAC, a labor union, or Wall Street, and if you dare to run for election beholden to none but the idea that our electoral process needs new voices and new ideas to sustain itself, don’t expect a fair fight. The way our electoral system is shaping up, you will start out in a hole and you will likely stay there.

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