Arizona voters adopted the Clean Elections system of funding elections to increase public participation in government in a number of ways — to increase the number of candidates running for office, to increase the number of citizens involved in campaigns and to increase discussion of the issues.
It was designed to protect our public dollars by providing the minimum amount of money necessary to run a viable campaign and, with its matching funds provision, to allow candidates to respond to attacks. Permitting this response increases the amount of discussion of issues in a campaign.
The participating versus non-participating funding decision is individual to each race. We’ve seen candidates initially run and win with Clean Elections funding and then seek re-election with private funding once they have met “friends with money.” Likewise, we’ve seen incumbents initially elected with privately funded campaigns choose to run as Clean Elections candidates in subsequent elections.
Also, there are no guarantees. We’ve seen non-participating candidates outspent with and without the triggering of matching funds. And we’ve seen participating candidates outspent two and three to one by non-participating candidates
This citizens’ initiative is doing what it was designed to do — increasing the number of candidates running for office, increasing the number of citizens involved in campaigns and making contributions, and increasing the amount of debate. In 2008, two out of three candidates opted to participate. And the program enjoys an approval rating with the public of 80 percent.
Even with, or perhaps because of, such accomplishments, opponents persist in throwing a dizzying array of epithets at Clean Elections, in filing lawsuits and in introducing bills in the Legislature to abolish or fatally alter the system. We can only surmise that they want to return Arizona to the “old days” — nothing “good” about them — with all of its special-interest money and the perception, if not the fact, of corruption.
Clean Elections is democracy at work, and it’s a success story.
—Ann Eschinger is president of the Clean Elections Institute Action Fund.