Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett case brief

Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett case brief summary
131 S.Ct. 2806 (2011)

Petitioners, candidates and independent expenditure groups (IEG), sued respondent Arizona officials challenging the constitutionality of Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 16-952(A), (B), (C)(4)-(5), a matching of public funds provision, arguing it unconstitutionally penalized and burdened their First Amendment rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed an injunction against enforcing the provision. Certiorari was granted.


  • Each dollar spent by a privately funded candidate (PrFC) resulted in a dollar of funding to each of that candidate's publicly financed candidate (PuFC) opponents -- a significant burden. 
  • The disparity in control -- giving money directly to a PuFC, in response to expenditures by IEGs that could not be coordinated with the PrFC -- was a substantial advantage for the PuFC. 
  • Once the spending cap was reached, an IEG could only avoid triggering matching funds by only addressing an issue and not a candidate's merits, or refrain from speaking altogether. 
  • There was no compelling state interest in "leveling the playing field" that could justify undue burdens on political speech. 
  • The provision counted a candidate's expenditures of his own money, and to that extent could not be supported by any anticorruption interest. 
  • Arizona's program gave money to a PuFC in direct response to the campaign speech of a PrFC or an IEG. 
  • It did so when the opposing candidate chose not to accept public financing and engaged in political speech above a level set by the State. 
  • The matching funds provision substantially burdened political speech without serving a compelling state interest.
The Ninth Circuit's finding of no First Amendment violation was reversed. 5-4 decision; 1 opinion, 1 dissent.

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