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Lawmaker wants referendum on future of public financing for campaigns

A state lawmaker wants Arizona voters to decide whether to eliminate public funding for political campaigns, a change that would do away with the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, said that public funds should be spent in areas that benefit the state, including border security, especially given the state’s budget deficit.

“We should be using the money where we need it,” Pierce said. “And it won’t be in public funds for political candidates; we’ll put it where the public needs it.”

Pierce authored SRC 1025, which also would prohibit any tax credit or deduction that provides funds to candidates running for public office.

The measure won preliminary approval from the Senate this week, setting up a final vote that would forward it to the House.

Voters approved Clean Elections in 1998 by a narrow margin. Its 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.

The proposed resolution defines public funds as any monies derived by the state or collected from taxes, fees, penalties, surcharges, payments or receipts of any kind.

If approved by voters, the measure also would ban a public financing system Tucson has had in place since 1987.

The bill is titled “No Taxpayer Subsidies for Political Campaigns Act” and makes no reference to the Clean Elections Commission.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, who voted against the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee and again in the Senate Committee on the Whole, said the measure is intentionally worded to mislead voters.

“If we want to eliminate Clean Elections, let’s not try to hide anything,” Gallardo said during debate before the Senate. “Let’s put it on the ballot. Let’s use the word ‘public money.’”

Todd Lang, executive director of the Clean Elections Commission, said he also fears the title and the bill’s language would make voters think that eliminating public financing for campaigns would mean more money for other programs.

“Eliminating Clean Elections doesn’t help our budget all,” Lang said. “Clean Elections doesn’t hurt the general fund.”

Lang argued against the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee, pointing out that seven of the eight committee members had used Clean Elections money to fund their campaigns at some point during their careers.

“The door was opened for you through Clean Elections. Don’t close the door for others,” Lang said in his testimony. “Allow other folks to run, allow other folks to get their ideas out there into the marketplace of ideas and allow other folks to join the Legislature.”

Another bill on Clean Elections:

Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, wants to eliminate trigger reports, which traditional candidates must file to inform the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission how much they are spending. SB 1305 would be contingent on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a pending case challenging the constitutionality of matching funds for Clean Elections candidates. A Supreme Court injunction in June put matching funds payments on hold.

Reagan said the bill would save traditionally funded candidates time if the Clean Elections Commission isn’t allowed to resume providing matching funds to publicly financed candidates.

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