The Serene Clean Elections Machine

For all that's at stake, the state's most influential lobbyists and businesses are strangely silent on Proposition 200, which would remove them as the primary financiers of election campaigns

In Patterson's view, whenever a taxpayer designates money for the Clean Elections Fund, "everybody else has to pay more taxes, or something doesn't get funded. It doesn't make any difference whether it's your tax money or my tax money--it's tax money."

Gary Tredway, the Scottsdale activist instrumental in creating Proposition 200, says a Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis belies Patterson's claim.

"The JLBC has analyzed Proposition 200's effects on the budget, and it will not reduce the general fund," Tredway says. "As a matter of fact, it will add to the general fund, so there's no way it will take away existing programs."

The JLBC report estimates that about 70 percent of the Clean Elections Fund would come not from tax filers but from a new surcharge on fines levied by Arizona courts.

"I'm not putting a whole lot of faith in the JLBC numbers," says state Representative Mike Gardner, a Republican and critic of Proposition 200. "Because you don't know how many people are going to run for office if you dangle that carrot--free money."

The JLBC guessed at the number of candidates who would run. For example, the JLBC's projections were based on a gubernatorial race that features seven primary candidates and three in the general. The numbers also assume that a third of all candidates would not volunteer to enter the Clean Elections program.

* Will my tax dollars go to candidates who don't share my political views?
Under Proposition 200, you would probably see public funds go to candidates you disapprove of.

Fans of 200 say that's preferable to having your tax dollars go to special interests in the form of tax breaks.

Lila Schwartz, who chairs Arizonans for Clean Elections, notes that the state currently allows citizens to designate a portion of their taxes for specific parochial schools. She says taxpayers should find that more objectionable than funding campaigns, which she calls "a social good."

* Could candidates spend the money on anything they want?
"If this does pass, let me use this opportunity to announce my race for governor," Janice Goldstein says. "I could use the $950,000."

Tredway says the five-member Clean Elections Commission that would be established under Proposition 200 would not allow a candidate to misspend campaign funds. The law states that candidates must disclose how much they spend and the "nature of goods and services and compensation for which payment has been made." Any unspent campaign money would be returned to the state.

"The commission will make rules for the participating candidates as far as what they consider legitimate expenditures," Tredway says.

* Would Clean Elections candidates receive realistic sums?
Senator Chris Cummiskey, a Proposition 200 supporter, believes the spending limits built into the measure are its weakest point.

"Can a challenger unseat an incumbent for $25,000? I'm not sure," says Cummiskey.

On rare occasions, legislative candidates have spent in excess of $100,000 on a campaign.

Tredway acknowledges that candidates sometimes spend far more than the limits spelled out in Proposition 200, but he believes the new law would put a brake on spiraling campaign costs.

"Most legislative races are in the $25,000 range or a little lower," Tredway says. "If there are big spenders in a specific race for a legislative district--and there's usually only a few--the Clean Elections candidate has the ability to get matching funds.

"I considered all this and felt that $25,000 is reasonable when all the other candidates are in that range. There's no point in having an arms race."

A Clean Elections gubernatorial candidate could get $950,000 for the primary and general elections. That candidate could get triple that amount--$2.85 million--if a non-Clean Elections opponent raised that much from private sources. In 1994, J. Fife Symington III spent $2.9 million to get reelected; his general-election opponent, Eddie Basha, spent $2.3 million.

Proposition 200's supporters note that the Clean Elections Commission would be able to adjust the spending limits as time goes on. And the Legislature could always fine-tune the law.

"I think it's going to need significant work to see that it tracks with the spirit of the initiative," Cummiskey says. "I would hope we wouldn't do too much until we have a couple of election cycles."

* Won't Proposition 200 add a new layer of bureaucracy?
It would, in fact, create the Clean Elections Commission, whose members would be nominated by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Elected officials from both parties would appoint the five-member panel from the lists of nominees.

Proposition 200 critic Jay Heiler, a former aide to governor J. Fife Symington III, believes the commission could become "a political battleground" and "a new repository for cynicism."

Arizona is one of only 10 states that lacks a commission or agency whose primary duty is to monitor campaigns.

Ruth Jones, the ASU professor, says, "I do think we have to have some independent commission to monitor elections. The secretary of state has thousands of things to do, and most states have regulatory agencies."

* Would Proposition 200 be constitutional?
Several foes have said that if voters approve it, they will challenge its constitutionality.

In a landmark 1976 case, Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that campaign donations are a form of free expression protected by the First Amendment.

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