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Critic of Clean Elections benefitted from program

In his Arizona Capitol Times commentary (“Why Clean Elections needs to end now,” June 5), Rep. Rick Murphy calls for the end of Clean Elections in Arizona.
Rep. Murphy calls Clean Elections “un-American” and notes that he has been opposed to Clean Elections since it was first proposed. His major complaint is that his participating opponents receive matching funds when he outspends them.
“Matching funds” enable participating candidates to compete with incumbents like Rep. Murphy by providing additional campaign funds so participating candidates can communicate with voters and respond to attack ads. In other words, the matching funds of which Rep. Murphy complains simply result in more political speech and more communication with voters.
In my view, our political system is best served by more speech — not less. Regardless, a robust political debate is most certainly “American” and promotes First Amendment values. 
The First Amendment protects our freedom of speech. It does not promise that speech will not be subject to rebuttal, response or correction. Yet this is effectively what the plaintiffs claim. This novel approach to the First Amendment is interesting but, if successful, will result in less political speech. Participating candidates will no longer receive matching funds that could be used to respond to ads by well-funded incumbents or misleading attack ads by activist groups. As a result, voters will pay the price for this reduction of speech. Voters will have less information, and misleading communications will be more effective.
Clean Elections has been working in Arizona for more than a decade since it was passed by the voters of Arizona in 1998. The creators of the act even had the foresight to include a funding source to ensure that not a single dollar is taken from the general fund. That funding source is a surcharge on civil fines and penalties and, in 2008, the commission transferred more than
$15 million to Arizona’s general fund to help with the budget deficit.
Moreover, 65 percent of all candidates for legislative and statewide office ran with public campaign money in 2008, and 55 percent of the winning candidates were participating candidates.
The Clean Elections program has enabled unknown challengers to take on incumbents and give the voters a real choice — choices like the voters of District 9 had in 2004 when they elected a new challenger who accepted Clean Elections money in order to run against a powerful incumbent.
The name of that challenger who used clean elections funding to beat an incumbent? Rep. Rick Murphy. Though Rep. Murphy no longer needs Clean Elections to fund his campaign, he is another example of the success of the program.
Todd Lang is executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

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