Public financing of elections can curb the corrupting influence of large campaign contributions. But has the Supreme Court doomed this important political reform?
Certainly, by striking down a piece of Arizona’s public financing law (in yet another divisive 5-4 campaign finance opinion), the Roberts Court set back one particular model of public financing. But the Arizona ruling was limited to a narrow question: whether states can award additional funding to publicly financed candidates who face a high-spending opponent or unexpectedly expensive outside attack ads. The Court expressly refused to cast doubt on the constitutionality of public financing generally. Nor did the Court question its long-standing belief (from the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo) that public financing helps “to facilitate and enlarge public discussion and participation in the electoral process, goals vital to a self-governing people.”