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Has ‘Clean Elections’ changed Arizona’s political landscape≠

Louis Hoffman, chief author of the Clean Elections Act

Ten years before 76 percent of 2006 statewide and legislative candidates declared their intention to campaign with public funding, a small group of people met in 1996 for the first time and hatched an ambitious plan.
Their goal was to restore the political influence they felt had been taken from the citizenry by wealthy “special interest” groups.
The origin of the movement that would eventually birth the Citizens Clean Elections Act, a.k.a. “Clean Elections,” was not native to the state. The concept came from Public Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign finance reform advocacy group, and was first introduced by Jim Driscoll, executive director of Arizona Citizen Action, at conferences at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, according to the Clean Elections Institute.
The ideas spread by ACA, an environmental and consumer advocacy group, were well received by the Arizona League of Women Voters, Arizona United We Stand, and a host of politically active individuals.
A steering committee was formed — Arizona Citizens for Clean Elections — and they committed to draft a solution that would encourage political candidates to seek approval from the average voter, and at the same time, increase citizen interest and activity in politics.
When Sun City Democrat Marge Mead joined the Arizona League of Women Voters in the summer of 1996, she considered herself “pretty ignorant about politics in general,” according to “Democracy’s Edge,” a book written by Frances Moore Lappe.
In fact, she attended her first campaign finance reform meeting held by the League as a stand-in for a few other members who had left Arizona for the summer.
But her inexperience was matched with strong feelings about the role of money in politics; believing specifically that it corrupted candidates and drove them to legislatively reward their powerful donors.
“It stands to reason that there’s going to be quid pro quo,” she was quoted as saying in the book. “Big campaign donors aren’t in it for altruism. They don’t consider their money a contribution. They consider it an investment.”
Ms. Mead was not alone. She was joined by fellow member Lila Schwartz, Dr. Mark Osterloh, attorneys Louis J. Hoffman, Tim Hogan, John Feigan, and Mike Valder; and Howard Mechanic, a former candidate for Scottsdale and Prescott city councils.
The chief author of the Clean Elections Act, Mr. Hoffman, said he joined the group in early 1997 at the urging of Louis Rhoades, an acquaintance and longtime executive director of the Arizona Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The body agreed on the primary concept: have the state finance campaigns instead of making candidates rely on donations from wealthy, powerful interests. What was needed was sufficient legal know-how to draft a ballot initiative, said Mr. Hoffman, a young, but experienced Harvard-educated lawyer who once interned with noted constitutional law expert Lawrence Tribe.
Determined to avoid future constitutional challenges, the Valley patent and intellectual property rights lawyer, studied the landmark 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo at length, and at times found himself “reigning the group in” from establishing a too drastic overhaul of campaign financing, he said.
In Buckley, the court ruled that limits on campaign contributions are constitutional, but setting personal limits to what candidates can contribute to their own campaigns is not- unless they enter such a system voluntarily, he said.
Forcing a candidate to participate in the novel system would be constitutionally improper and so “great pains” were taken to create an approach that would allow candidates to run traditional campaigns if they desired, he said.
After nine months of weekly meetings, details of the Clean Elections Act — implementation procedures, contribution and spending limits, penalties for rule-breaking, cut-off dates, and other matters were ironed out and a final draft was approved and filed with the Secretary of State’s Office in early 1998.
What does the Clean Elections Act do≠
The act establishes the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, a five-member body that regulates public funding for elections, investigates candidate violations of the act and performs voter education functions.
Under the system, candidates qualify for public funding by raising a certain number of $5 donations, depending on the office sought, from registered voters while agreeing not to accept contributions from private interests with the exception of exploratory funds used by committees formed to help a potential candidate decide whether to run.
During campaigns, participating and privately funded candidates are required to report cash on hand, campaign expenditures, contributions and in-kind contributions quickly and accurately to ensure equal funding is given to opponents.
Publicly funded candidates for statewide and legislative offices are given initial funding to campaign for the primary and general elections. Additional matching funds are also distributed if a privately funded opponent exceeds election period spending limits.
The matching funds provision of the act has become a source of tension for both proponents and opponents of the Clean Elections Act. The act causes the distribution of money to publicly funded candidates when traditional candidates raise funds beyond existing limits, but fails to subtract the expense of raising the funds — often leaving the publicly funded candidate with more campaign money than the private contender.
The provision, in combination with a mandated lowering of contribution limits, unfairly coerces legislative candidates to use the public funding system and is part of the basis of a pending lawsuit against the act by the libertarian-orientated Institute for Justice.
The suit, Association of American Physicians and Surgeons v. Brewer, is awaiting a hearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit. Plaintiffs include former Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon, current Sen. Dean Martin, R-6, and former state legislator Lori Daniels.
The suit also argues that the automatic delivering of matching funds to opposing candidates has the effect of muffling the free speech of campaign contributors, according to Tim Keller of the Institute for Justice.
The amount of funding distributed to candidates during the primary and general election cycles can vary from race to race, depending on whether a candidate is unopposed, involved in a one-party dominant district or independent expenditures are made by outside groups intending to influence an election.
“The main idea is that, rather than being obligated to narrow special interests and ‘fat cat’ individuals needed to get them elected, candidates can get elected on their own merits, on an even playing field,” said Mr. Hoffman.
Commission members are appointed by state officeholders of alternating political parties, beginning with the governor.
The CCEC is funded by a 10 percent surcharge on civil and criminal fines and donations from state income tax returns.
Selling the Clean Elections Act
Signature gathering began soon after the filing in 1998, and small amounts raised in-state and funding from out-of-state pro-campaign finance reform groups like Common Cause and Public Campaign helped fuel the drive. Until 187,206 signatures were filed with the Secretary of State’s Office on June 29, 1998, the effort went largely unopposed, said Sharlene Bozack, the first executive director of the Clean Elections Institute, a private nonprofit campaign finance reform advocacy group.
Established in 1999, the Clean Elections Institute played a large role in selecting commissioners to the CCEC and helping the commission establish rules for candidates, said Ms. Bozack.
The early lack of attention from opponents to the effort was welcomed by its supporters, who implemented a grass-roots strategy of speaking to community and church groups, civic organizations and college classes.
“We stayed under the radar,” said Ms. Bozack, now a government relations officer for the American Cancer Society. “No one thought we would make the ballot. We didn’t make a lot of noise.”
L. Gene Lemon, a former CCEC Republican commissioner and current independent investigator for the five-person body, recalls that traditional opponents of campaign finance reform, namely business interests, stood silent.
“The Arizona Chamber of Commerce attitude in 1998 was that the initiative did not have a chance of passing and therefore did not need to be opposed with chamber resources,” he said.
Many proponents of Clean Elections credit past Arizona political scandals for initiative’s success, naming the Keating Five episode, the impeachment of Governor Evan Mecham, but most notably AzScam, the 1991 sting that ensnared several legislators taking bribes from undercover officials posing as lobbyists for the gaming industry.
“It (AzScam) showed that Arizona legislators could be bought, and cheaply, and caused a number of them from both parties to either resign or not run for re-election,” said Eric Ehst, executive director of the Clean Elections Institute. “This caused a wave of public disgust with the Legislature and the pervasive influence of money on the process and was one of the driving forces that both created Clean Elections and was used to convince voters to approve the initiative.”
Barbara Lubin, who preceded Mr. Ehst at the institute, agrees that public exhaustion with political scandals helped pass the Clean Elections Act, which barely won with 51.2 percent of the vote in November 1998.
“Basically the people of Arizona had seen and read all these stories over a number of years and were upset,” Ms. Lubin said. “They wanted a different system to fund elections that wouldn’t lead to such activities.”
The act itself decries traditional campaign funding, which Clean Elections backers say discourages the non-wealthy and un-influential from running for office, gives incumbents an “unhealthy advantage,” undermines “public confidence in the integrity of elected officials,” allows candidates to receive funds from private interests they are expected to govern, and requires candidates to spend too much time fundraising instead of addressing issues.
Departure from traditional campaign funding
In November 1998, 481,963 voters approved Prop. 200, bringing the Clean Elections Act into law by a narrow 51.2 to 48.8 percent margin.
The departure from traditional campaign funding was hailed by victorious supporters and some candidates are fond of what they perceive to be an equalizing effect brought by the $5 contribution qualifying system.
Said 2004 unsuccessful House candidate Katie Bolger, “Clean Elections is about everyone having equal access to the political process. It’s about giving voice to those who are traditionally not heard at election time. And with a $5 donation, the waitress becomes as important as the car dealer. With a $5 donation, the janitor is equal to a CEO. And with a $5 donation, the clerk down at the Circle K, they’re just as important as the president of the University.”
While national supporters like Nancy Watzman of Public Campaign view publicly funded campaigns as a needed solution to counter disproportionate influence held by the wealthy, opponents at their level see the reform in a different light.
To Bradley Smith, former Federal Elections Commission chairman appointed by President Bill Clinton, the phrase Clean Elections by itself is a misrepresentation of what he describes as a “waste of taxpayers’ money and a loss of Arizonans’ freedom”
“Clean Elections≠” said Mr. Smith, the author of Unfree Speech, the Folly of Campaign Finance Reform. “It’s like calling something the ‘healthy economy’ law, or ‘good government’ or ‘quality education.’ Who opposes any of those things≠ If we set up an Arizona Good Economy Commission, and asked Arizonans to vote: Should the state adopt a good economy≠ What result would you likely get≠”
The reforms are rooted in suspicion of private activities, distrust in democracy and perceived partisan advantage. The changes also fail to deliver on promises to minimize the influence of special interests, as evidenced by Governor Napolitano’s use of labor union strength on campaigns, and to make campaigns less negative, he said.
The local critics of Arizona’s system tend to believe the initiative’s founders, mostly Democrats, were most concerned with re-shuffling the deck for the purpose of minimizing Republican political might and fundraising advantage.
The system was contrived to help overcome “decades of Republican successes at the polling booths,” said Tom Liddy, a syndicated conservative radio talk show host and lawyer.
“Democrats know that under the status quo the Republicans will always do better at fund raising,” said Lee Miller, a Valley elections law attorney. “Solution≠ Pass a variety of laws to limit that Republican advantage.”
Proponents of the act, frustrated with the Republican “stranglehold” that ensured the defeat of more liberal items and agendas, miscalculated the effects of removing private money from campaigns, Mr. Miller said.
“The thought was that divorcing candidates from the lobbyists would allow legislators to vote their conscience more often, and good, liberal agenda items would naturally flow from that,” he said. “Wrong. What the Clean advocates didn’t think through was that separating Republican candidates from the business community would empower social conservatives.”
Since the inception of the Clean Elections Act, CCEC cash distribution has replaced that of the private sector as the largest source of funding for statewide and legislative campaigns.
A study issued in May by the Institute on Money and State Politics reveals that since 2002, candidates have received more money from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to run campaigns than they have from private donors, including political action committees, parties and individuals contributing to their own campaigns.
In 2002, the last election to include all statewide office campaigns, almost $13.6 million in public funds were distributed to candidates, compared to about $6 million from private interests, according to the study.
Two years later when all 90 legislators and four corporation commissioners were to be selected, candidates received approximately $4.5 million in public funds compared to almost $2.3 million in private money, according to the study.
The Institute on Money in State Politics also reports that nearly half, 47.7 percent, of all contributions from identifiable sources to traditionally funded candidates in 2004 came from lawyers and lobbyists; the finance, insurance and real estate sector, the health sector; and candidates’ own assets.
The group was unable to identify the sources of specific interest behind almost 29 percent of contributions, or $650,000 of the $2.26 million given to candidates in 2004.
Act ‘liberates’ conservatives
While many conservatives disdain the idea of public funds for campaigns, some like political consultant Constantin Querard appreciate the wedge driven between candidates and business interests.
To Mr. Querard, Clean Elections liberates true conservatives and allows them to run principled campaigns on social issues, without having to compromise or seek the approval of business groups more interested in making money.
“The establishment that has always funded these races does not care whether you are Republican or Democrat,” said Mr. Querard, a pro-life and traditional marriage advocate. “They will donate to your campaign just as long as you are willing to vote yes on spending, specifically spending that benefits them. As a result, the people who were winning races tended to be under the influence of those few interests that funded the campaigns. Now, you can elect people who will vote their conscience, who do not owe anyone any favors.”
According to records of the CCEC and the Secretary of State’s Office, Republican use of public funds for statewide and legislative offices, regardless of their degree of commitment to social issues or business concerns, has held relatively steady over the past two elections, but is set to rise slightly in 2006.
In 2002, the first election to include statewide offices since the passing of the initiative, 60 Republicans ran campaigns with public funds and 22 were elected.
Two years later in an election excluding most statewide offices, 59 Republicans ran as participating Clean Elections candidates, and 28 of them were successful.
Though 2006 candidates have until Aug. 31 to submit their $5 contributions to qualify with the CCEC, 68 Republicans, out 168 total publicly funded candidates, have so far declared their intent to run with public funds, according to commission records.
In 2002, 71 Democrats campaigned with public funds. About half of them, 35, were elected. Fifty-seven Democrats used the system to run in 2004. Eighteen Democrats were elected. In 2006, 96 Democrats have declared their intention to run publicly funded campaigns, according to the CCEC.
Though Clean Elections is credited by many like Mr. Querard for creating a more conservative Legislature, support of the system and recognition of its usefulness has not waned among its traditional supporters on the left.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-15, one of the Legislature’s most liberal voices, believes that publicly funded campaigns allow a greater spectrum — women, minorities, teachers, nurses and social workers — to enter the political arena.
Republican success with Clean Elections is more a matter of skillful implementation and does not represent a problem with the plan itself, she said.
With rare exceptions like the Progressive Majority advocacy group, liberally minded groups and individuals have been slow to adapt to the changes, she said.
“If the progressive left did some good strategic planning, it would be able to use the system effectively as well,” she said. “But for years the left has squandered its political power while the right was working very, very hard from the very lowest offices up to president to use the political system, including Clean Elections, very effectively. We just need to catch up.”
But to Mr. Lemon, appointed to the commission in 1999 by Governor Hull, the issue is more of an interesting balancing act of candidates’ political views, attitudes toward fundraising and the ability point the finger at opponents — or maybe not.
“It is something somewhere between a misnomer and a pipedream,” he said. “And it is an over-complicated Arizona campaign finance system with which all politicians have developed a love/hate relationship; they love the money, but they hate the rules. Or they abhor this use of public funds, but they love the complicated rules for the opportunity to embarrass violators.
“Actually, it is a pretty straightforward, voluntary campaign finance system for candidates who do not or cannot raise campaign contributions in the traditional ways.”
The effects
Most advocates and opponents of Clean Elections are hesitant to credit the relatively novel system with creating significant differences to the Arizona political scenario at the Legislature or in statewide offices.
Like Mr. Ehst of the Clean Elections Institute, they usually attribute as much importance to the numbers of single-party dominant districts where incumbents in general elections are “bulletproof,” redistricting and term limits.
But Mr. Ehst attributes increased voter participation to the act and assails a recent report by Allison Hayward for the Goldwater Institute that asserts that increases in voter turnout since 1992 occur in years with presidential elections and have nothing to do with the passage of the 1998 initiative.
Mr. Ehst’s problem with the study is not philosophical, but that data were molded to fit a “biased and predetermined premise,” he said.
“In the text they reference voting age population numbers, which include illegal aliens and felons, not eligible voters,” he said, adding that “apples to apples” comparisons show that turnout was steadily declining before the act and has steadily risen since then.
Statistics compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office indicate that voter participation since 1996, the last pre-Clean Elections election cycle including a presidential race, has increased during years with presidential elections.
In 1996, 63.76 percent of registered voters turned out for the general election. Four years later, this number had risen to 71.76 percent, and in 2004 had climbed again to 77.10 percent, according to election results compiled by the office.
Joe Kanefield, the state elections director with the Secretary of State’s Office, said the rise in voter percentages could be the result of efforts to make it easier to register to vote, such as online registration and the ability to register at the Motor Vehicle Division with an integrated driver’s license application and voter form.
Todd Lang, executive director of the CCEC, finds benefit in the increase of voters contributing to campaigns in the form of giving $5 contributions to candidates attempting to qualify for public funding and notes the studying of Arizona campaign finance system by other states.
“Since the passage of the Citizens Clean Elections Act, direct participation of voters who contribute $5 qualifying contributions to candidates has increased from more than 23,000 in 2000; to 36,000 in 2002; to nearly 40,000 in 2004,” said Mr. Lang, who recently was invited to speak before the New Mexico Governor’s Campaign Finance Reform Taskforce. “Furthermore, Arizona has been established as a model in reforming state elections, making government more responsible to the people, improving communications with candidates and reducing the power of special interests.”

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