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Measure to dismantle Clean Elections moves forward

Opponents of Arizona’s system of publicly financing candidate campaigns secured an important victory Monday, when a panel of lawmakers approved a ballot measure to eliminate it.

The measure, if sent to the ballot and approved by the public, bans the state or any of its political subdivisions from spending money to fund candidates’ campaigns.

The proposed constitutional amendment additionally prohibits any tax credit or deduction to do the same.

Finally, it precludes governments from assessing taxes, fees or surcharges if they’re used to provide money to candidates.

But much of the debate Monday centered on what the ballot measure should be called.

SCR1021, which was introduced by Sen. John McComish and is backed by business interests and influential conservative advocacy groups, is called the “No Taxpayer Subsidies for Political Campaigns Act.”

But supporters of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, which voters approved in 1998, said the proposal to gut it should be called what it seeks to do — a repeal of Arizona’s “clean elections” system.

The public knows the program by that name and giving the proposal another title would be “deceptive,” they said.

But the system’s opponents said taking “clean elections” out of the title would provide a much truer sense of what the system is about.

To them, the program is about subsidizing candidates’ campaigns with taxpayer dollars and calling it “clean elections” is deceptive.

The fight over the measure’s title is important.

It is effectively the start of a public relations war over the 14-year old system, which is widely used by Republicans and Democrats alike.

The ballot measure’s title could spell the difference between success and failure at the ballot box.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the referral by a vote of 6-2.

As expected, the lawmakers on the panel split along party lines. Republicans backed the measure while Democrats opposed it.

The full Senate still needs to debate and vote on the measure.

What typically happens is that House and Senate leaders will decide at some point — usually near the end of session — which ballot proposals will be sent to the Secretary of State to be included in this November’s general election.

Arizona’s clean elections system is funded through surcharges on certain civil penalties and criminal fines, and a tax credit for contributions to the program.

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