Campaign Finance Reform in Arizona

“Take no gift, for the gift blinds the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous” – Exodus 23.

— Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Tomorrow, Monday, March 28, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case McComish v. Bennett, which considers the constitutionality of the “matching fund” provisions of Arizona’s public campaign financing program.

The Union for Reform Judaism has submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case McComish v. Bennett, which considers the constitutionality of “matching fund” provisions of Arizona’s public financing program. The Reform Movement has long held that public financing is vital to limit the corrupting and distorting influence of campaign spending in our democracy. Arizona has one of the strongest public financing programs in the country, and we are proud to forcefully defend it in court.

Under Arizona law, candidates for state offices may qualify for full public financing for their campaigns if they voluntarily discontinue all private fundraising. Participating candidates who face privately financed opponents expending large sums of money are eligible for additional matching funds to ensure that they have the resources to compete. In a manner that facilitates additional speech rather than restricting the speech of others, matching funds ensure that candidates do not incur a penalty for participating in a program that promotes an electoral process unfettered by the influence of special interests.

We are inspired to support public financing by our religious texts, which warn of the corrupting influence that gifts can have on public officials.  Talmud explains a prohibition against public officials accepting gifts, saying, “as soon as a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed towards him that he becomes like his own person and no man sees himself in the wrong” (Tractate Ketubot, 105b). As our religious texts recognize, any time something of value changes hands, the potential exists for those in a position of power to see the world in a hue tinted by the gift giver. Public financing forecloses the opportunity for such distortion.

More after the jump.

McComish v. Bennett is the most high-profile case the Supreme Court has heard on campaign finance reform since the landmark 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC. In that case, the Supreme Court overturned 63 years of precedent prohibiting corporations and labor unions from spending unlimited amounts of money on campaign advertisements, a decision that affords wealthy and powerful interests a megaphone to potentially drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. McComish v. Bennett is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to reverse course and rule in favor of a law that protects the ability of all citizens to have an equal voice in our democracy. We hope the Court avails itself of that opportunity.

We are grateful for the work of Andrew Goodman, Esq. and his colleagues at Garvey Schubert Barer for serving as the Counsel of Record for the amicus brief. Their assistance and dedication were invaluable in completing the first amicus brief that the Union for Reform Judaism has ever drafted.  


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