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

Kaia Lenhart, the political director of Arizonans for Clean Elections, is a Public Campaign employee.

And aside from its direct and massive donations to the Arizona effort, it's evident that Public Campaign has been instrumental in finding other contributors to Proposition 200.

Organizations from Massachusetts have been particularly generous: The Proteus Fund of Amherst, a group expressly formed to promote state-by-state campaign reform, has donated $135,000; the Peace Development Fund, also of Amherst ($50,000); the Institute for Civil Society of Newton ($17,000).

New York has been munificent as well. PBS documentarian Bill Moyers was the guest of honor at one New York fund raiser for the Arizona initiative. The Salidago Foundation of New York has contributed $20,000, while George Soros, the billionaire creator of the Quantum Fund investment group, has donated $100,000.

Soros is no stranger to Arizona politics. In 1996, he was responsible for stuffing $430,000 into the campaign coffers of the group pushing Arizona's marijuana medicalization initiative. State voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure, which the Legislature promptly gutted. Tuesday's ballot has a gnarl of propositions spawned by the Legislature's action, and Soros has dumped $183,000 into that campaign.

Soros, 68, a Hungarian-born Jew, managed to evade the Nazis during World War II and after the war immigrated to England, where he attended the London School of Economics. He moved to the United States in 1956 and began building his fortune, much of it in currency trading. The London Guardian says Soros' money "doesn't talk, it shouts." A $1,000 investment in his Quantum Fund in 1969 is worth $500,000 today.

Soros' philanthropic politicking began in earnest when he founded the Open Society Fund in 1979. Today he bankrolls a network of foundations that operate dozens of countries, especially in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. A biography says these organizations are "dedicated to building and maintaining the institutions and infrastructure of an open society." He has funneled nearly $1.5 billion into these causes in the past four years alone.

Soros declined to be interviewed for this story, but when the Washington Post asked him last week why he was funding political campaigns in Arizona, Soros replied: "I live in one place, but I consider myself a citizen of the world. I have foundations in 30 countries, and I believe certain universal principles apply everywhere--including Arizona."

Soros is deeply committed to campaign-finance reform; he was one of four founding funders of Public Campaign.

Arizona groups contributing to Arizonans for Clean Elections were Arizona Common Cause ($10,000) and the Arizona Education Association's Education Improvement Fund ($5,000).

Individual donors of note include Nadine Mathis, wife of Eddie Basha ($3,000); Dr. Robin Silver ($1,150); attorney Dan Cracchiolo ($500); former Phoenix mayor Terry Goddard ($100); former congressman James McNulty ($100); former Maricopa County supervisor Ed Korrick ($100); Susan Goldwater, widow of Barry ($100); and former governor Rose Mofford, who appears in pro-200 TV ads ($50).

A significant portion of the Proposition 200 nest egg was spent gathering signatures to get the measure to the ballot; Lee Petitions of Phoenix was paid more than $140,000.

"Yes, we paid for a lot of signatures, but we had lots of volunteers that went out, too," Tredway says. "Every initiative pays for signatures; I don't know of any that don't. Arizona requires so many signatures compared to other states."

This year, signatures of 115,000 registered voters were required to get an initiative on the ballot.

Not so very long ago, Arizona was a gallery where conservative dogma might pose as statute.

In 1995, then-governor J. Fife Symington III gave a speech to a prominent right-wing think tank. He suggested the brethren consider Arizona as an ideological proving ground. The speech was titled "Arizona As a Laboratory for Change."

A few of the lab experiments blew up. Others mutated. Remember the private property "takings" initiative of 1994? It failed. The push for school vouchers? We got a passel of charter schools instead. The "Polluter Protection Act," so onerous that even Symington couldn't help but veto it? (Expect it to return in 1999.) The Constitutional Defense Council? The crusade to make Arizona a safe haven for Freon?

The pendulum seems to have swung. Bill Clinton carried the state in 1996, the first Democrat to do so since Harry Truman. Then there's the aforementioned vote to approve marijuana as medicine, also okayed in 1996.

Tuesday, Arizona could become the third state--behind Maine and Vermont--to embrace the so-called Clean Elections concept.

Maine voters enacted their program in 1996, with 54 percent approving. Public funding of campaigns will not begin there until the year 2000, but that hasn't stopped a national pro-life political action committee and the American Civil Liberties Union from suing to undo the initiative. A judge ruled that because nobody could have been harmed yet by the new law, it was too soon to litigate. The lawsuits will likely be refiled next year.

Vermont's program was approved by its legislature last year.
Massachusetts voters will join Arizonans in considering a Clean Elections initiative on Tuesday. The state's congressional delegation has unanimously endorsed the measure, Question 2.

The nation's press awaits the outcome of the Arizona and Massachusetts votes.

On October 19, the New York Times published a front-page story titled "2 States Consider Boldly Revamping Campaign Finance." The newspaper followed up the next day with an editorial under the head "A Grass-Roots Message on Reform." The Times opined:

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