Two weeks after a House panel killed an effort to gut the state’s public campaign finance system, a revised version of the measure to end Clean Elections was approved by the same committee.
The House Judiciary Committee approved SCR1009 by a 5-3 vote along party lines. The measure includes a strike-everything amendment that asks voters to repeal the Clean Elections system in the November election.
Originally, the measure would have barred the use of “taxpayer money” for political campaigns. But it hit a snag when Rep. Steve Montenegro, a Republican from Litchfield Park, opposed it. He said the language was “dishonest” because it was crafted to garner public support but did not clearly state that the result would be ending Clean Elections.
After Montenegro’s opposition killed the original measure earlier this month, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry posted a video attacking him and other Republicans who support Clean Elections, likening them to pigs feeding at the trough of taxpayer dollars.
Supporters of Clean Elections said the Chamber’s video is evidence that the state is better off with public financing, which gives candidates an alternative to raising money from special interests like the business community.
“There will be no way to say ‘no’ to the Chamber, because there won’t be an alternative to the Chamber,” said Todd Lang, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
He also noted that 70 percent of state lawmakers have used Clean Elections.
“Many of you wouldn’t be here without Clean Elections,” Lang said.
Nick Dranias, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute who has successfully sued Clean Elections in federal court, said Arizonans were “playing with fire” by allowing government to control campaign financing.
“Giving government control of elections in this way threatens the very nature of our republican government,” he said.
Republican opponents of Clean Elections, all of whom voted for SCR1009, said taking public money for campaigns was not in line with GOP principles.
“How can I be a fiscal conservative and take taxpayer money?” said Rep. Bill Konopnicki, a Republican from Safford.
The bottom line is that voters need the chance to either reaffirm or reject Clean Elections, now that it’s been in effect for a decade, Montenegro said.
“It’s something the voters have put in place, and it’s time for them to decide if they want to keep it,” he said.
The bill now moves to the Rules Committee for a constitutional check, then to the floor for consideration by the entire body.
The effort to end public campaign financing is backed primarily by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Government for Arizona’s Second Century, the lobbying arm of the O’Connor House Project, a group spearheaded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.