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Court OKs Helping Political Campaigns With Criminal, Traffic Fine Surcharges

October 12, 2002|From Associated Press

PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court on Friday approved of collecting surcharges on criminal and traffic fines to help fund political campaigns, rejecting an argument that the system violates free-speech rights.

Ruling unanimously, the state Supreme Court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of public money for campaign financing, and it found that the Arizona system doesn't promote any particular message.

The opinion, written by Justice Rebecca White Berch, also pointed out that state taxes already pay legislators' salaries, regardless of whether an individual taxpayer agrees with every lawmaker.

The 10% surcharge on court-issued fines provides about 60% of the funding for the state's public financing of state election campaigns. Other sources include taxpayer contributions.

This year's candidates already have received their basic allotments of Clean Elections money for the general election, but the case could have affected extra funds provided to some candidates to match private expenditures against them.

Republican state Rep. Steve May contested the surcharge on a parking citation, arguing that the fee infringed on payers' constitutional free-speech rights. A trial judge ruled against him, but the state Court of Appeals overturned that decision.

May's lawyer said the case will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Clean Elections system was authorized by Arizona voters in 1998 and first used two years later.

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