And its decision in
Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission
, which liberated corporate and union spending, prompted an outpouring of criticism from President Obama and Democrats and recast the 2010 elections.
Campaign finance restriction advocates such as J. Gerald Hebert and Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center warn that the court once again is “poised to issue a ruling that could make it harder for ordinary citizens to compete with big money in our democracy.”
The case to be heard Monday concerns a provision in Arizona’s public campaign financing law that increases funding for those facing big-spending opponents or interest groups.
It is the first time the court has considered a public finance system since its landmark decision in 1976 that the presidential public funding system was constitutional.
In a memo to supporters, Hebert and Malloy wrote that an adverse ruling from the court “could undermine public financing systems across the country and increase still further the grossly disproportionate voice given to corporations and unions in our elections.”
Those on the other side are encouraged by the recent actions of the court, saying the justices are asserting that the First Amendment’s protection of political speech sets a high hurdle for the government to restrict campaign spending.
They have launched challenges of federal and state campaign finance restrictions across the country, and the Arizona case could provide another signal about how willing the justices are to advance the cause.
“I think they have a healthy and realistic skepticism about the government trying to influence” campaign spending, said William R. Maurer, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, one of the groups objecting to the Arizona law.
In his brief to the court, Maurer writes that the case will determine whether the government may force those who do not accept public funds to “choose between unfettered political expression and funding advantages for their political rivals.”
Since the Citizens United decision, the court has declined two chances, both advanced by the Republican National Committee, to relax fundraising and spending restrictions on the political parties.
But it made clear this past summer it has concerns about the Arizona system, ordering the state not to distribute the matching funds in the midst of the 2010 elections.