The Arizona law was an elegantly simple approach to protecting the public's interest in democratic elections within the ever-tightening straightjacket created by the Court in its line of cases since decreeing that money is speech in Buckley v Valeo. Since the Supreme Court prevents the public from requiring all candidates to participate in public funding, subject to mandatory spending limits, Arizona instead provided a system for matching the electioneering expenditures of, or for, privately funded candidates, so that candidates taking public money would not be defeated simply by being outspent.
Arizona referendum voters used their spending power to assure that the privately funded candidate would not win simply by buying more ads than the publicly funded candidate. They wanted the outcome of elections to be determined by the actual content of the speech, what the candidates have an equal opportunity to say, not how often and loudly their money permits them to broadcast it in the mass media. The law expanded true debate at the expense of the money primary, where the person with the most money attracts more of it and thereby overwhelms the opposition. The Roberts 5 fears the former and wants to continue the latter. So they claim that "Arizona's matching funds provision [will] inhibit robust and wide-open political debate." It in fact enhances the amount of two sided debate - the only robust kind there is.
The Roberts 5 weave their constitutional blanket around privately funded candidates, as if they were a minority target of discrimination. The voters of Arizona considered private funding of elections as an evil somewhat like, say, advertising for cigarettes. If not prohibited, it at least requires a public response if there is to be a chance of electing politicians who do not have to sell out the public interest in myriad ways to repay the sources of their private money. As the country becomes more unequal (it now ranks as the 44th most unequal country) democracy becomes less feasible under a regime that the Court created to allow money to flow freely into politics. Justice Brandeis said: "We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." Money buys politicians, and bought politicians help make more money for those who pay in a vicious cycle of conflicted and corrupt interests.
If voters cannot constrain the flow of money into politics, as taxpayers and citizens, they will systematically pay far more for political paybacks. The cost to "average taxpayers [of] millions of dollars in the form of subsidies and special privileges for campaign contributors" is noted right in the overturned Arizona law. Sec. 16--940(B). These favors are not commonly caught by narrowly construed bribery laws and the wide-mesh net typically used for their enforcement.
A recent CNN poll found that 86% of Americans think that elected officials are mostly influenced on issues by major campaign contributors. That 86% includes pretty much everyone but those like the Roberts 5 who benefit from this corrupt system.
Arizona Free Enterprise is in many ways worse than Citizens United, which simply opened a new wider channel for money that was already flowing into politics. By invalidating the matching mechanism the Supreme Court now destroys the only known balance to this private river of money: an equal amount of public money. This latest Roberts 5 decree on election law now seals their guarantee of continued plutocratic control of state legislatures, as well as Congress, if it were not already too corrupt to pass a law as democratic as Arizona's. By enabling the rich to consistently spend more money than publicly-financed candidates they enable the rich to buy elections and candidates for private ends, as a constitutional right.
Though perhaps not as easily demagogued by inaccurate appeals to abolish "corporate personhood" (a term nowhere actually mentioned in or necessary to the Roberts 5 decision in Citizen United), the Arizona law approved by the state's voters was the last best chance to get around the Roberts 5 mandate for America of a corrupt electoral system.