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Ariz. Free Enterprise Club/McComish v. Bennett Adar v. Smith (U.S. Sup. Ct.)

At issue in this Supreme Court case was the constitutionality of Arizona’s Clean Elections Act, a pragmatic, workable system of public campaign financing intended to deter political corruption by diminishing candidates’ dependence on private contributors, reducing opportunities for individual corruption, and restoring public trust in government.

On February 18, 2011, CAC filed a brief in this case defending the constitutionality of the Arizona law on behalf of leading scholars on American democracy, the Constitution, and the history of political corruption: Professors Bruce Ackerman, Lawrence Lessig, Zephyr Teachout, and Adam Winkler. Drawing from the work of our esteemed clients, our brief demonstrated that the Framers crafted innovative, overlapping constitutional provisions designed to combat corruption and the appearance of corruption. These measures were aimed at two general types of corruption: individual, quid pro quo corruption, and institutional, “independence corruption,” which threaten to draw representatives away from the interests of the people and make them dependent instead on other forces—such as foreign patrons, financial contributors, or other branches of government.

The brief’s articulation of a legitimate, governmental interest in regulating against institutional, “independence corruption” was a powerful response to Citizens United’s potentially narrow definition of individual, quid pro quo corruption as the only type of corruption government can constitutionally regulate.

The Court heard oral argument on March 28, 2011.

On June 27, 2011, in an ideologically divided, 5-4 decision, the Court struck down Arizona’s campaign finance law, designed to combat corruption in Arizona’s elections, as an unacceptable restriction on free speech, in violation of the First Amendment. But as Justice Elena Kagan noted in her dissent, the conservative majority’s decision “is in tension with broad swaths of our First Amendment doctrine.” Continuing the assault on campaign finance laws that the conservative majority began with 2010’s controversial Citizens United decision, the Court ignored both precedent and the wisdom of the Framers by dismissing the entirely valid concerns of the people of Arizona in combating corruption. For more information, read our statement decrying the Court’s decision here.