Monday, August 12, 2002

Vouchers and Clean Elections II: This Time It's Personal!

Or at least repetitive.

The Arizona Supreme Court heard arguments in the challenge to the Clean Elections system Thursday; no word yet on when the Court may issue its decision. Just in case a majority buys this "involuntary association" theory, I plan to keep the receipts from a hotel stay later this month. Beth and I will celebrate our anniversary with a night at one of the local summer-season discounted resorts. If they charge us the tourism hotel taxes, no way that Tourism and Sports Authority will be able to use my money to argue in favor of a stadium with which I disagree, right?

East Valley Tribune, August 11, 2002

Last week, I argued that opposing public financing of political campaigns on allegedly constitutional and moral grounds, while simultaneously supporting public financing of religious education, is hypocritical.

My column rated a same-day response from the editor. He saw no inconsistency: “What is inconsistent is the position of modern-day liberals like Coppersmith . . . . perversely arguing that a poor black parent in inner-city Cleveland must not be allowed the option of escaping an entrenched institution -- local public schools -- by using some of her tax money to send her child to a private or religious school she believes is better.” (Emphasis added.)

But wait -- that’s the entire game, right there. The Ohio voucher program isn’t based on a deduction, voluntary check-off, or tax credit, but rather is funded by general state revenues. That parent’s voucher wasn’t just “her tax money,” much less "some of" her money. Eligible low-income parents simply don’t pay as much as the voucher in all their taxes combined. Instead, it’s everybody’s tax money.

The Ohio voucher program’s funding isn’t voluntary; it’s mandatory for taxpayers of all faiths, and atheists, too. Those revenues are, to paraphrase the Tribune editorial but with religion substituted for politics, “forcibly taken from citizens to support (religions) and (faiths) with which they may disagree.” So the Tribune’s pro-voucher, anti-Clean Elections position really is “subsidized religion good, subsidized political speech bad.”

Arizona already has a “voluntary” voucher system funded by tax deductions and credits, including our dollar-for-dollar private (and public) school tuition credits. That credit doesn’t raise all that many dollars, and those dollars tend to ignore the poor and benefit the better-off instead. But it’s perfectly constitutional, and there’s no compulsion involved by using general tax revenues.

But voucher proponents want to be able to use everybody’s taxes, not just voluntary contributions, which ignited the Cleveland litigation, and now raises the “interesting” vouchers-are-good-but-Clean-Elections-is-bad conundrum.

The real story here is that the broad constitutional argument -- “you can’t use my tax money for politics (or religion) I don’t support!” -- may be attractive politically, but it’s a legal loser. Courts have rejected such “taxpayer” suits time and again, with the Cleveland voucher case just the latest example.

Despite the rhetoric, the lawsuit against Clean Elections isn’t claiming that we can’t use tax money for political speech. Instead, it’s claiming that (1) people who pay parking tickets and civil fines are “members” of an “association” of sorts, and (2) by belonging to this club, they have rights to control use of their money that law-abiding taxpayers and citizens don’t.

The Tribune and Clean Elections opponents may use broad policy arguments, but that’s not their actual legal theory. They conflate the two because there are two problems, one legal and one political, with their “involuntary association” theory.

First, if people paying parking tickets or fines constitute an association with such rights, then who doesn’t? Virtually anybody paying into a designated fund -- the education sales tax, or my particular favorite, the tourist taxes funding the Cardinals stadium -- gets “membership” veto powers. Association theory will swallow the taxpayer-lawsuit doctrine whole, with truly bizarre results.

Second, this association theory really means lawbreakers have more rights than you do. When Clean Elections opponents say “nobody should have to pay to support politics they abhor,” by “nobody” they actually mean “certain people who pay fines because they broke the law.”

You law-abiding taxpayers -- well, tough luck. You should have joined a club if you want the same kind of rights, and respect, given to lawbreakers.

The Tribune really is arguing that nobody should be compelled to support political speech with which they disagree, but everybody should be compelled to support religious speech with which they disagree. Membership may have its privileges, but honestly, that’s ridiculous.

No comments: