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Clean Elections law challenged

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Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 12:28 am | Updated: 7:36 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Foes of public financing of elections are trying once again to void parts of the Clean Elections law that Arizona voters approved in 1998.

The legal papers filed Tuesday in federal court contend that provisions of the law unconstitutionally coerce candidates to accept public money — and the restrictions that come with that — rather than finance their campaigns with private donations.

That’s because the Citizens Clean Election Commission provides dollar-for-dollar matches of money that privately financed candidates raise and even money spent on their behalf.

The argument is the same one from the Institute for Justice that U.S. District Court Judge Earl Carroll rejected two years ago.

Carroll said the government is entitled to enact regulations to prevent not only corruption but even the appearance of corruption in the election process.

And Carroll will be the one hearing the new arguments.

But Tim Keller, the organization’s state director, said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has directed Carroll to reconsider the case, this time allowing the foes to present evidence and testimony.

The 1998 law allows candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public funding. That measure was approved by voters despite objections of several business groups that have traditionally financed campaigns.

Most Clean Elections funds come from a surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.

Keller conceded that courts have upheld similar public financing arrangements in other states.

The law, however, gives more money to publicly funded candidates when privately financed foes raise additional donations. Keller said it is not the job of the state to equalize funding among candidates.

Another provision of the law provides additional money to publicly financed candidates when independent groups take out ads attacking them or supporting their privately financed foes.

But independent expenditures made on behalf of the publicly funded candidate are not considered.

All that, Keller said, amounts to illegal coercion of candidates to accept public funding.

In his 2005 ruling, Carroll rejected the coercion argument. He said the advantages and detriments of accepting public funding are “roughly proportionate’’ to those of deciding to seek office with private contributions.

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