McComish v Bennett is an Arizona case in which the plaintiffs sued to overturn the matching funds system on First Amendment grounds. Maine faced a similar challenge brought by the National Right to Life groups in the late 1990's. In 2000, our matching funds system was upheld by both the District Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.
In this case, the District Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and overturned matching funds, but the state appealed the decision, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The First and Ninth Circuits are in agreement that these very similar matching funds programs are constitutional.
In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court then took the highly unusual step of enjoining the matching funds program on the request of the plaintiffs. Before even agreeing to hear an appeal of McComish v Bennett, the Court blocked payment of matching funds in the primary election that was then underway. Arizona's election, with many, many candidates already qualified for Clean Election funding, was thrown into a tailspin.
MCCE's Alison Smith reacts to US Supreme Court decision to block Arizona law - Listen on MPBN (6/10/2010)
Meanwhile, a similar challenge to a Clean Elections matching funds system in Connecticut ended with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturning that part of Connecticut's law. With the fight over matching funds intensifying, in February, 2011, MCCE filed an amicus brief in the Arizona case.
On March 28, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments. Read MCCE Board Member Jesse Graham's first-hand account of the oral argument before the Supreme Court
On June 27, 2011, by a vote of 5-4, the high court rejected the matching fund portion of Arizona's Clean Elections law. The decision is disappointing, but not unexpected. The Roberts Court - the court that brought us the infamous Citizens United decision - is continuing its aggressive reshaping of campaign finance laws. Read MCCE's Press Release on the decision.
This is not the end of public funding! In fact, the Court specifically affirms the basic constitutionality of public financing of elections. The ruling only affects the matching fund schemes that use spending by candidates or independent expenditures to trigger additional funding to participating candidates.
Anticipating that the Court would issue an opinion in the Arizona case in late June, the Maine Legislature passed LD 848, a resolve which provides a public process and a timeline to study the impact of the ruling and adjust our system before the 2012 elections. In August, 2011, MCCE submitted comments to the Ethics Commission on Post-McComish changes to Maine law. Today, MCCE is working with a broad group of stakeholders to recommend adjustments to the Clean Election Act that strengthen the program and are consistent with its intent before next year's elections.
- Read the Supreme Court's decision
- Read MCCE's amicus brief rejecting claim that Clean Election matching funds "chill" First Amendment rights
- Read the study by University of Vermont Associate Professor Anthony Gierzynski that finds no evidence that the trigger provision in Maine's Clean Election law "chills" fundraising or spending
- Check out this blog post from University of Illinois Professor Michael Miller: Clean Elections v Political Speech
- For more information about the lawsuit go to: Brennan Center for Justice
- Two options considered for Clean Election fixes, Susan M. Cover, The Portland Press Herald, 8/19/2011
- Maine Ethics Commission Seeks Clean Election Law Fix, A.J. Higgins, Maine PBN, 8/18/2011
- Effort under way to fix Maine campaign funding law, Glenn Adams, The Bangor Daily News, 7/21/2011
- 3 views on future of Arizona's campaign finance system, Mary Jo Pitzl, The Arizona Republic, 7/3/2011
- Is Maine's Clean Elections law in danger?, Gina Hamilton, The New Maine Times, 6/29/2011
- High court decision to impact Maine clean elections law, Steve Mistler, The Lewiston Sun Journal, 6/28/2011
- Supreme Court ruling leaves Maine elections law in doubt, The Portland Daily Sun, 6/28/2011
- Campaign finance law fixes needed in Maine after high court ruling, Rebekah Metzler, The Portland Press Herald, 6/28/2011
- Supreme Court ruling to affect Maine Clean Elections, Kevin Miller, The Bangor Daily News, 6/28/2011
- Justices Strike Down Campaign Finance Law, Adam Liptak, The New York Times, 6/27/2011
- Clean Election ruling, WGME-13, 6/27/2011
- Supreme Court Ruling Weakens Maine Clean Election Law, Jay Field, Maine PBN, 6/27/2011
- Poll finds support for Arizona's Clean Elections law, Mary Jo Pitzl, Mary K. Reinhart, AZCentral.com, 4/18/2011
- Supreme Court, Legislature set sights on Clean Elections program, Kevin Miller, The Bangor Daily News, 3/29/2011
- Supreme Court skeptical about Arizona's campaign finance law, Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, 3/29/2011
- With Arizona case, Supreme Court takes up campaign finance issue again, Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, 3/26/2011
- The importance of campaign finance reform in one graph, Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, 3/23/2011
- Mainers support Clean Elections funds, fair races, The Journal Tribune, 7/2/2011
- Clean Elections go through the wringer, The Bangor Daily News, 6/29/2011
- Supreme Court tips scales for wealthy politicians, The Lewiston Sun Journal, 6/29/2011
- Let's do what's right for Maine, The Times Record, 6/29/2011
- High court deals public campaign financing a heavy blow, The Washington Post, 6/28/2011
- Arizona's election law is best left alone, The Los Angeles Times, 3/31/2011
- Court should uphold Arizona campaign law, The Washington Post, 3/27/2011
- Clean Elections doesn't deserve GOP attempts to make it illegal, The Arizona Daily Sun, 3/18/2011
- Maine Voices: Clean Election law not dead yet, Alison Smith, The Maine Sunday Telegram, 9/4/2011
- Making Political Office the Exclusive Domain of the Wealthy, Fred Markham, The Bradenton Times, 7/13/2011
- The Supreme Court's continuing defense of the powerful, E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post, 6/29/2011
- Clean Elections ruling will chill speech, not protect it, Greg Kesich, The Portland Press Herald, 6/29/2011
- Where to Now on Public Financing?, The New York Times, 6/28/2011
- Money Talks, Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, 4/11/2011
- Demonizing political equality, Tara Malloy, The National Law Journal, 4/11/2011
- McComish, the Supreme Court and the Fiesta Bowl Scandal, Doug Kendall, The Huffington Post, 4/4/2011
- Rich Candidate Expected To Win Again, Richard L. Hasen, The New York Times, 3/25/2011
- Free Speech Worth Paying For, Charles Fried, Cliff Sloan, The New York Times, 3/25/2011
Letters to the Editor
- Supporting Clean Elections, Deborah Moran, The Lewiston Sun Journal, 3/27/2011