Supreme Court’s McComish decision

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Susan Lerner

June 27, 2011


Supreme Court’s McComish decision strikes down trigger provisions in Arizona law, but leaves public financing foundation intact

The Supreme Court has once again sided with big-moneyed interests in the case McComish v. Bennett, but the foundation of public campaign finance programs remain, and it’s more important than ever that we preserve and extend them, Common Cause said today.

Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/New York said: “We strongly disagree with the narrow majority on the Supreme Court, but this is not the end of public financing. This ruling affects one mechanism of public financing, and we know from the experience of our colleagues in Connecticut that there are numerous ways to fix it.

“We will be working with the New York City Campaign Finance Board to determine what impact the Court’s ruling has, if any, on the New York City Matching Fund system. If adjustments are necessary, we have good models in the Connecticut Citizens Election program and the Fair Elections Now Act pending in Congress. The strength of a matching fund system is that it does not rely as heavily as an Arizona-style system on trigger mechanisms.”

Connecticut’s Citizens Election program used to include “trigger funds,” which are funds that give a candidate participating in the public financing system additional grants to match spending by non-participating candidates or outside groups when that spending exceeds the initial grant provided to the participating candidate. Connecticut’s trigger provisions were struck down by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in July of 2010 and subsequently repealed by the Connecticut legislature in early August. Therefore the Connecticut law no longer contains trigger funds and does not raise the issue presented in the Arizona case. The Fair Elections Now Act, which is pending in Congress, does not contain trigger provisions and was developed as an alternative and written to meet the criteria laid out by the high court. It allows participating candidates to obtain public funds by voluntarily agreeing to limit their acceptance of large, private donations. Small donations of $100 or less to the Fair Elections candidate are then matched on a five to one basis-similar to the highly successful New York City matching funds system and contrasting starkly with the Arizona system.

New York City’s campaign finance law includes a “Bonus Situation,” in which the amount matched and the spending limit are raised if a participating candidate is outspent by a non-participating opponent. It is this aspect of the system which will be analyzed in light of today’s McComish decision.