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High court to review Arizona election finance law

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Opponents of the Arizona campaign finance law claim it violates free speech rights
  • NEW: Arizona officials contend there's a compelling state interest in equalizing resources
  • The law provides matching funds to underfunded candidates
  • Justices temporarily blocked enforcement of the law in June

Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court said Monday it will review an Arizona election law providing matching funds to underfunded candidates. The court had put off consideration of an appeal of the measure until the conclusion of recent statewide elections.

The justices temporarily blocked enforcement of the "clean elections" law in June, ordering state officials not to distribute money under the measure. The law would provide extra taxpayer-funded support for office seekers who have been outspent by privately funded opponents or by independent political groups.

A federal appeals court approved parts of the sweeping campaign reform law in April. Several mostly conservative groups -- including current and former Republican state legislators -- subsequently filed an emergency appeal with the high court, claiming their free speech rights were being hurt by the law.

Among other things, they contended that private fundraising efforts would be hampered because of public election financing.

Arizona lawmakers have argued there is a compelling state interest in equalizing resources among competing candidates and interest groups. They contend the plan to provide matching funds advances that state interest in the least restrictive manner.

The Supreme Court will now review the broader free speech issues raised in the appeal. Oral arguments will be held before April, with a ruling expected by June.

Groups opposed to the law were pleased the high court decided to intervene.

"We hope the Supreme Court will strike down Arizona's 'matching funds' law," said Bill Maurer, executive director of the Institute for Justice, which helped bring the legal challenge.

"The entire purpose of laws like Arizona's is to provide the government with the means to limit individuals' speech by limiting their spending while putting a thumb on the scale in favor of government-funded candidates. That is not allowed under the First Amendment."

There was no immediate reaction from Arizona officials.

The cases are McComish v. Bennett (10-239) and Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett (10-238).