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Lawmaker wants to divert Clean Elections funding to education

Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix (Cronkite News Service photo)

A state lawmaker wants voters to decide whether to strip the Citizens Clean Elections Commission of its funding and give that money to the Arizona Department of Education.

Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said he authored HCR 2026 because that money would be better spent on students than on what he considers a failed system for publicly funding political campaigns.

“I think if we really want to direct that money towards a public good, I believe that public education through charters and also through the district schools are the best use of that money,” Boyer said. “I’m always looking for ongoing funding for education, and I view this as an ongoing funding stream.”

The Clean Elections Commission has received an average of about $10.5 million annually over the past three years from a 10 percent surcharge on civil penalties and criminal fines, civil penalties paid by candidates and the $5 contributions candidates must collect to participate. Arizonans previously were able to contribute money via a $5 check-off box on state income tax returns, as well as through dollar for dollar tax credits, but those options ended last August.

Boyer’s proposal would divert that money to the Department of Education for maintenance and operations.

If passed by the state Legislature, it would appear on the 2014 ballot.

The Senate Education Committee narrowly endorsed Boyer’s proposal along party lines last week, forwarding it to the floor by way of the Rules Committee. It passed the House by a vote of 31-27, also largely along party lines.

Boyer told the committee that he doesn’t think Clean Elections has done what it was designed to do since voters approved the system 15 years ago.

“We were told that public money for politicians would moderate politics,” he said. “Now, I don’t know if anybody here actually believes that. I don’t know if this body believes that. But I think we should give voters the opportunity to see whether they believe it has actually lived up to its promise.”

In order to receive Clean Elections money, candidates must collect a given number of $5 contributions depending on the office for which they are running. Candidates also must agree to forgo private funding and agree to participate in Clean Elections debates.

During the 2012 election cycle, approximately $3.3 million was given to 69 campaign committees that chose to use public funding.

Todd Lang, executive director of the Citizens Clean Election Commission, said that while he doesn’t doubt Boyer’s commitment to education he believes that the true target is Clean Elections.

“You just have to look at the context of what he’s saying,” Lang said. “His whole presentation that day and his whole presentation when it was in the House are consistently critical of Clean Elections, critical of the name ‘Clean Elections,’ critical of the whole program and supportive of getting rid of it.”

Lang said that by building the argument around education funding supporters can avoid attempting to simply repeal Clean Elections, something that opinion polls suggest would likely fail.

Barbara Klein, president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, told the committee that the resolution set voters up to make a choice that shouldn’t really be a choice at all.

“We would be appalled if we were asked to vote, ‘Do you want breakfast or do you want dinner?’” Klein said. “The expectation is that we get both, and it’s obvious that this attempt – at least it’s obvious to us – that this attempt is simply to kill Clean Elections by putting it up against lollipops and puppy dogs.”

Scot Mussi, executive director of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, said in an interview that the original choice to pass Clean Elections wasn’t exactly a sterling one either.

“I think the original premise on which the law was passed would’ve been a false choice in and of itself,” he said. “That somehow it implies that the only way to run clean is to run with taxpayer money.”

Mary Marshall, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Education, said that while the department had no official position on the resolution it would equitably distribute whatever money it receives should voters pass the resolution.

Bruce Merrill, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said that getting rid of Clean Elections would likely not have a big impact on campaigns.

“I think it has never been provided enough funding to candidates,” he said. “The amount of money, for instance, that they give to a gubernatorial candidate’s about enough for a Republican or Democrat to send one direct-mail piece to all Republicans or all Democrats in the state.”

Clean Elections in 2012:

• $3,312,280 spent overall
• $1,929,285 for Democrats
• $1,357,873 for Republicans
• $25,122 for independents
• 36 percent of all candidate committees opted to use Clean Elections funding (69 out of 191)
• 51 percent of Democratic candidate committees opted to use Clean Elections funding (44 out of 86)
• 33 percent of Independent candidate committees opted to use Clean Elections funding (One out of three)
• 27 percent of Republican candidate committees opted to use Clean Elections funding (24 out of 90)
• No Green candidate committees opted to use Clean Elections funding (out of six)
• No Libertarian candidate committees opted to use Clean Elections funding (out of six)

Source: Citizens Clean Elections Commission

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