McComish named in lawsuit headed to U.S. Supreme Court - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

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McComish named in lawsuit headed to U.S. Supreme Court

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Posted: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 8:00 am

A lawsuit bearing the name of state Senator-elect John McComish (R-Ahwatukee Foothills), will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court early next year.

The lawsuit, designated McComish v. Bennett, represents a challenge to portions of Arizona's Clean Elections Act, passed by a statewide initiative in 1998. The law set up a system in which candidates for state office may receive public money to finance their election campaigns in an amount equal to the money spent by a competing candidate who campaigns using private donations.

McComish said he plans to attend the hearings in Washington, DC, next year.

"I think our chances are excellent," he said. "It's pretty exciting to have a Supreme Court case with your name on it."

Supporters of public matching funds, such as New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, which is representing the Arizona Clean Elections Institute in the case, argue that public matching funds level the playing field for publicly funded candidates to compete against privately funded candidates with deep pockets. The law places no limit on the amounts that privately-financed candidates may raise or spend on their campaigns, said Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, a spokeswoman for the center.

"We don't think it infringes on First Amendment rights," Plant-Chirlin said.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are expected to commence in March, and a ruling could be available by next summer, she said.

On the other hand, opponents of the law, such as McComish and the Goldwater Institute - the Arizona think-tank that's handling the legal challenge - say it violates the First Amendment rights of privately funded candidates by "having government put its thumb on the scale for their opponents."

"We're ecstatic that we have a chance to put an end to the worst feature of taxpayer subsidies for politicians," said Clint Bolick, the Goldwater Institute's litigation director, in a recent statement.

McComish said his involvement stems from his successful 2008 run for the Arizona House of Representatives. In the Republican primary, he faced three opponents, each of whom accepted public matching funds, while McComish went with traditional campaign financing from private donors. It unbalanced the election, he said.

"Because of the rules of Clean Elections, there ended up being about four times as much money spent against me as I was able to spend against my opponents," McComish said. "I could not raise money, because when I did, any money that I raised got matched."

Shortly thereafter, he received a call from the Goldwater Institute, which was planning to challenge the law and seeking plaintiffs.

"I said yes," McComish said, adding that a federal Supreme Court ruling would have nationwide impact programs that allow candidates to finance their campaigns with public matching funds.

"It's the most egregious and unfair part of the system," McComish said.

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