New National Review Online piece: The Folly of Public Campaign Funding
Should political candidates get their campaign costs covered by the government? What if a candidate chooses not to take taxpayer money? And should taxpayers give more money to his opponent if a candidate raises more money for his campaign? Those are the questions that the Supreme Court is discussing today as they hear oral arguments in McComish v. Bennett, a case challenging Arizona’s taxpayer-funding for political campaigns.
Supporters claim that such public financing encourages political debate. They contend that giving everyone the same amount of money ensures all points of view will be heard. The argument seems simple enough, but empirical research indicates just the contrary, that such restrictions actually entrench incumbents and reduce competition.
Arizona’s law essentially imposes campaign spending limits. The Constitution won’t let the governments ban candidates from raising money, so Arizona tries a less direct approach . . . .
UPDATE: Here is what happened with the oral arguments today.
Justice Elena Kagan was the most aggressive defender of an Arizona law that provides matching dollars to publicly financed candidates who face privately backed opponents and third-party supporters that spend in excess of government limits.
"I'm not sure what it means to constitute a substantial burden if, in fact, the law does not chill speech," Kagan told lawyer William Maurer, who argued the law dissuades some people from spending money in favor of candidates who forego the public system out of concern that the publicly financed candidates will get more money. . .
But the rules penalize candidates who spend more on their campaigns. How is that not a chilling of speech?
UPDATE 2: Lyle Denniston predicts, and I think that he is right, that the Arizona law will be struck down.