by Daren Bakst
Senior Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy, Heritage Foundation
A new lawsuit has been filed challenging North Carolina’s taxpayer financing systems. The United States Supreme Court, in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, recently ruled that rescue funds (or matching funds) that make up these campaign finance systems are unconstitutional.
Rescue funds are money that is triggered when a candidate not accepting taxpayer dollars and independent organizations spend beyond a threshold amount of money thereby triggering money (i.e. rescue funds) to the candidate taking taxpayer dollars. The effect is to chill the First Amendment rights of candidates and independent organizations because they won’t engage in speech because it comes at the expense of helping the opponent.
The State Board of Elections has already decided to prohibit Chapel Hill from using rescue funds in their upcoming election. In large part, this was due to the hard work of JLF pointing out that Chapel Hill would be violating the constitution by issuing rescue funds. Note: Chapel Hill is the only municipality with such a program.
The judicial and Council of State programs, which are being challenged in the lawsuit, have the same rescue fund problems.
Hopefully, the case won’t need to get very far because the legislature should repeal, at a minimum, the matching fund provisions of these laws, and should repeal the laws altogether since they are dependent on matching funds to “work.”
The State Board of Elections and its staff also shouldn’t be administering or enforcing any provision connected to rescue funds. There could even be personal liability for clearly violating constitutional rights.