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 the weeks since campaign finance reform was killed in Washington, it has been fashionable to say that the issue never had much popular support. But that cynical view is belied by the momentum behind two important initiatives this fall, in Massachusetts and Arizona, where voters are being asked to create publicly financed campaign systems that would free politicians of their dependence on money from special interests. Approval for these measures would provide a model for how to clean up local political races and send a strong signal to Washington to enact reform legislation next year."

USA Today weighed in editorially on October 22, saying, "Polls show strong support in both states, even though they're political opposites--Arizona staunchly conservative; Massachusetts resolutely liberal. What they have in common, with each other and with the rest of the country, is a history of money corrupting the political process."

Ruth Jones, the ASU political science professor and a supporter of Proposition 200 (she donated $100), is not surprised by fascination with the Arizona election.

"I think that the people who care about campaign finance--and that's both the people who favor and oppose Proposition 200--are going to watch this carefully," Jones says. "If Maine's program works, if Vermont's program works, and if Arizona passes this, then there will be a lot of movement in other states."

Movement in Missouri was interrupted by an aggressive business lobby. The Missouri reformers needed 72,000 signatures, and spent $200,000 to gather 115,000. But organizers were able to raise only $250,000 of the $1.5 million they believed they would need to offset an opposing coalition.

The Missouri Clean Elections committee decided not to put the question on the ballot this year, but to retrench, raise more money, collect signatures again and put the measure on the 2000 ballot.

Kaia Lenhart worked on the Missouri campaign before coming to Arizona to organize for Proposition 200.

"We didn't have a real deep grassroots base or a donor base to support the kind of campaign that we knew we'd have to run to get our message out," she says of the Missouri effort. "It was very difficult to stop the campaign, but it was also very pragmatic of that group. . . . Reason outweighed emotion at that point, and it was the right decision."

Lenhart likens the Clean Elections movement to such social struggles as women's suffrage and the civil rights movement.

"Those took years to make changes," she says. "Our committee in Missouri is already having planning meetings for 2000."

They should plan well.
Told that the Missouri group had put off its campaign initiative for two years, an official of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce seems almost disappointed. "We were ready to go to war on this one," he says.

In Arizona, the opponents of Proposition 200 are fighting a guerrilla war.
When the measure was certified for the ballot in August, Republican activist Dorothy Dean "Deedee" Meyers sued, claiming the initiative should be stricken because it lacked a proper name when its petitions were circulated. The legal challenge failed. Tom Patterson says he and former governor Symington helped raise $10,000 to pay for the lawsuit.

Even those who abhor Proposition 200 express grudging admiration for the way Arizonans for Clean Elections has framed its effort.

"This sounds wonderful--save the babies and clean elections," says Jon Hinz, spokesman for the anti-200 campaign group, Not With the People's Money--No on Proposition 200. "I've got to give them credit. They went out and grabbed a good name, and they did a good job of making people gun-shy."

It was October before lawmakers and lobbyists began murmuring that voters might actually dismantle the campaign-finance system.

When the Arizona Republic's editorialists wanted to hear arguments over Proposition 200, they didn't know whom to call to speak against it. So they summoned former Symington aide Jay Heiler, who is now a political consultant. Heiler believes Arizonans for Clean Elections is misleading voters.

"They call it the Clean Elections initiative," Heiler says. "They barely ever get around to pointing out that this is public financing of political campaigns. . . . If you're going to take a measure like this to the voters in an initiative, you take it to them straight."

Hinz credits Republican state Representative Mike Gardner with stimulating the opposition effort.

"Mike Gardner was the first one to run out of the house, saying, 'Fire! Fire!'" Hinz says.

In an October 6 interview, Gardner called Proposition 200 "bad public policy. . . . If you're pro-choice, would you want your dollars going to pro-life candidates? It's basically welfare for politicians. It's a handout."

He said the current campaign finance rules--state voters in 1986 imposed strict limits on the sums candidates can get from individuals and organizations--work well.

"This is the way our forefathers envisioned our country, not tax dollars going out to the politicians," Gardner says. "For citizens to run and be viable candidates, they need to go out and raise the money from the people who believe in their issues."

Two days later, Gardner was still decrying the measure, but he didn't want to be seen as a leader of the opposition.

"I don't know who told you I was leading this, because I'm not," Gardner said. "I'm an interested bystander."

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