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Clean Elections survives elimination measure again, could still head for ballot

A House panel today killed a pair of measures designed to gut Arizona’s public campaign finance system, but the fight to let voters decide the fate of Clean Elections is not over.

The House Judiciary Committee voted down one measure, SCR1043, which would have redirected all current and future money in Clean Elections coffers to classroom maintenance. And for the second week in a row, it held off on considering a measure that would prohibit the use of “taxpayer money” for legislative and statewide campaigns.

Because today’s hearing was the last time the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet this year, that means SCR1009 won’t get a hearing and is effectively dead.

Both measures would have amended the state constitution if voters approved them in the November elections.

The measures’ fates hinged on the vote of Rep. Steve Montenegro, a Litchfield Park Republican, who opposed them both. He said that, although he believes backers of Clean Elections used deceit to win voter approval for the program in 1998, opponents of the campaign finance mechanism shouldn’t resort to the same tactics.

By using wording that is more politically popular than an outright repeal of Clean Elections, Montenegro said supporters of SCR1009 were trying to trick voters.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right. We have to be honest with the voters,” he said.

But supporters said they aren’t giving up on the ideas, even if those particular pieces of legislation are dead.
“We are exploring our options and talking with supporters and (Republican) leaders to see if there’s a way to move forward, but one’s not readily clear,” said Deb Gullett, a lobbyist for Government for Arizona’s Second Century.

That group is the lobbying arm of the O’Connor House Project, a group of civic and political leaders gathered by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, which recommended eliminating Clean Elections as a way to improve governance in Arizona.

Business groups are also working to spike the Clean Elections system. Marc Osborn, a lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it’s important for conservative Republicans to be put on the record regarding public financing. It’s disingenuous for those lawmakers to tout deep cuts to state spending, yet keep receiving campaign funds from the government, he said.

“The business community is very fired up about Clean Elections,” Osborn said.

House Speaker Kirk Adams said he hopes to find away to revive the ideas in the two ballot referrals before the legislative session ends.

“Nothing is dead until the session is over,” he said.

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