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Clean Elections requires candidates to buy or return equipment

The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission approved a rule change Thursday that would require candidates to turn over laptops and other fixed assets exceeding $200 or purchase them at half of the original price.

Cronkite News Service reported in December that some of the 107 legislative candidates who opted for Clean Elections funding purchased laptops and other fixed assets, paid relatives to do campaign work and provided entertainment such as a mariachi band and a “post-debate discussion” with campaign staffers at T.G.I. Friday’s.

The previous rules limited purchases of fixed assets to $800 but allowed candidates to keep those items.

The commission voted 4-0 in favor of the change.

Michael Becker, the commission’s voter education manager, said commissioners decided to act after having the issue come up repeatedly.

“The commission felt that this was the best of both worlds because it allows the candidates to purchase the assets at a reduced price,” he said.

Under the new rule, candidates may buy fixed assets, which include computers, printers and cameras, at 50 percent of the original price. Otherwise, they must turn in the equipment over to state surplus within 30 days after the primary election or after the general election if the candidate wins in the primary.

The rule take effect with the 2012 election cycle.

Nick Dranias, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute, which is challenging a key provision of Clean Elections before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the larger problem is handing public money to candidates.

“They will not get rid of the problem without getting rid of the underlying problem, which is giving free money to politicians,” Dranias said.

He said that controlling the “abuse” of this money gives government too much control over campaign spending.

“This engages the commission in a very close relationship with the electoral process, which is dangerous because there is no end to the degree of monitoring of campaign spending.”

Clean Elections money comes from a surcharge on civil penalties and criminal fines, voluntary $5 contributions on tax forms, tax-credit donations, $5 qualifying contributions from candidates and civil penalties paid by candidates.

Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, who sponsored a bill this session that would write the new rule into law, called the change a step in the right direction that would boost the integrity of the Clean Elections system.

“I am confident it will address the concerns that the citizens had about the abuses of public money,” he said.

Ableser said his bill, HB 2262, won’t be taken up in committee. But he said he’d still like to see a law on the subject.

Public funding may not be used to pay for:
• Legal defense in any campaign law enforcement proceeding
• Meals exceeding $11 for breakfast, $16 for lunch, and $27 for dinner
• Household food items
• Expensive, non-promotional clothing
• Tuition payments, unless used for training staff
• Mortgage, loan, rent, lease or utility payments
• Tickets to entertainment events that are unrelated to campaign activity
• Recreational club dues unrelated to a specific fundraising event
• Gifts or donations

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