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Earth Notes

Arizona clean elections law redux?

By How

Phoenix, AZ – The concept is simple. People who want to run for
statewide or legislative office who agree to limit
spending can qualify for state dollars. But Rep. Rick
Murphy noted there are some quirks in the system. For
example, if a candidate who chooses to get
contributions from private donors raises more money
than the amount given to those who take public dollars,
than the publicly funded candidate gets a dollar-for-
dollar match. And the problem goes even deeper than
that. If an outside group buys airtime for commercials
to attack the publicly funded candidate, that candidate
gets an equal amount of money. And the same is true if
those independent ads praise a privately financed
contender. That's exactly what happened four years ago
when publicly financed Democratic gubernatorial hopeful
Janet Napolitano got additional cash every time some
group would run commercials praising privately financed
Republican contender Matt Salmon. Napolitano ended up
outspending her GOP foe and won. Murphy said that
hardly makes the system voluntary.

(I just don't believe it's a choice when there's an
undue incentive and really a penalty for making one
decision over another. That's not a choice. That's
blackmail. And the government should not be in the
business of blackmail.)

Murphy's legislation would do more than eliminate the
public financing option for candidates. It also would
scrap virtually all the restrictions on how much
privately financed candidates could get from any one
individual or special interest political action
committee. That brought an angry response from Linda
Brown of the Arizona Advocacy Network, a group whose
members lobby on behalf of what they see as social and
reform issues.

(All levels of government in Arizona would be for sale
to the highest bidder. And this a blatant move from my
perspective, from our perspective, to consolidate power
and ensure that Arizona's government is bought and paid
for by the wealthiest of special interests to serve the
special interests.)

But Rep. Laura Knaperek said the law, dubbed the
Citizens Clean Elections Act, hasn't really lived up to
its promise of removing special interests from
influencing who gets elected. She pointed out that
lobbyists still can give seed money to publicly
financed candidates. And they also are free to help
those candidates get the necessary $5 donations. The
level of public support for the whole system depends on
who you ask. Barbara Lubin, director of the independent
Clean Elections Institute which supports public
funding, acknowledged the original measure passed in
1998 by a margin of just 51 to 49 percent. But she said
more recent polls suggest deeper support.

(In January of 2006, 85 percent of the people stated to
this poll, Behavioral Research poll, that they believe
it is important to keep Clean Elections. Now, granted,
50 percent of the people don't know what Clean
Elections is. We've got a growth state. And for those
of us who have been advocates of the law through the
years sometimes that does get to be frustrating.)

But Rep. Russell Pearce said it's all in the wording of
the question.

(That's kind of interesting because I was shown a poll
here the other day that dealt with that. And although
there were a majority thought Clean Elections was a
good deal, when you ask them if you thought politicians
should get taxpayer money to be publicly funded, the
same number, which was a majority, said absolutely

Lubin acknowledged the flaws in the system, like the
unfair match provided to publicly financed candidates,
but said they should be fixed and the measure not
scrapped. Tuesday's party-line vote by the House
Appropriations Committee sends the measure to the House
floor. In Phoenix, for Arizona Public Radio this is
Howard Fischer.