On Monday, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to clean elections by invalidating a crucial component of Arizona’s public campaign law. In a 5–4 decision, the Court declared that the trigger portion of the law violations the Constitution. The trigger allows candidates to access additional public funds if their opponent overwhelms them with attack ads and other campaign expenditures. Without the trigger, almost any candidate hoping to compete will be forced into a vicious cycle of raising money from special interests and corporate donors.
The decision, a “hard uppercut following Citizens United‘s body blow to American democracy,” did not happen in a vacuum. According to Politico, the case was “brought by a pair of small-government groups — the Washington-based Institute for Justice and the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute — on behalf of Arizona state candidates who rejected public funds and argued the provision infringed on their freedom of speech.” These two litigation groups share one thing in common: both are heavily financed by right-wing corporate money, particularly from Koch Industries and Walmart:
— Institute for Justice: Founded with “initial seed money” from Charles Koch, the Institute for Justice is a nonprofit litigation group focused on bringing cases to decrease regulations on corporations and to remove clean election laws. Foundations connected to Koch Industries have given the Institute for Justice well over $2.6 million. The Walton Family Foundation, a foundation run by the three children of Walmart founder Sam Walton who have a controlling stake in the company, has donated $1.64 million, and is one of the Institute’s other top donors. Recent 990 disclosures from the group showcase amicus briefs filed in the Citizens United and the Arizona clean election case as top priorities for the Institute.
— The Goldwater Institute: The Goldwater Institute is one of the premiere right-wing think tanks on the state level. Most recently, the group has taken a leading role in challenging the constitutionality of health reform. The Goldwater Institute is funded by a number of conservative foundations. However, both the Walton Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation are among its top donors.
Of course, the disclosed foundation funds noted here may only be a fraction of the money received by the Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute. Both organizations accept secret donations from individuals and corporations.
As the courts dismantle decades of campaign finance reform, it is important to remember that a small cabal of well-heeled corporate interests are guiding the way. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Koch Industries, Walmart, and a number of other highly political corporate actors paved the way for the decision yesterday by funding the groups responsible for bringing the challenge. And as ThinkProgress has reported, the chamber and Koch have been at the forefront at exploiting the new Wild West of unmitigated corporate electioneering.