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

"It's basically a systemic problem, not a quid pro quo," Gary Tredway says. "We're claiming the whole finance system makes the Legislature dependent on these big-money interests. Legislators have to produce for the people who gave them money last time, so they can get money the next time."

"I don't know that you can give a quid pro quo," agrees Arizonans for Clean Elections chief Lila Schwartz. "You'd have to look at their voting record and where they get their campaign contributions, and put two and two together. You can draw inferences from that."

Senator Chris Cummiskey also hesitates to cite specific bills that might have been influenced by campaign cash. Cummiskey nonetheless agrees that lobbyists and special interests have "close to a monopoly on campaigns and elections" in Arizona.

"If you spend one afternoon at the Senate Finance Committee, you'll see that bills that typically are calendared are a litany of tax breaks for specific industries out there," Cummiskey says. "There are scores of bills like that. They add up. Each might have a price tag of $3 to $5 million."

Last year, New Times wrote of a bill introduced by Senator Russell Bowers, a Mesa Republican, that would have exempted one dry-cleaning business from having to pay millions to clean up polluted property. The company's owner and lawyer both had contributed to Bowers' campaign.

State Senate president Brenda Burns--a Republican whose campaign war chest exceeds $80,000 despite the fact that she had no primary election opposition, and her opponent in the general was a write-in candidate in the primary--made headlines recently after she circulated a memo that allegedly warned lobbyists not to contribute to the campaigns of Democrats. The Attorney General's Office determined that no laws were broken.

Arizona Citizen Action conducted computer analyses of campaign giving in Arizona and concluded that in 1996, large contributors (givers of more than $100) made up 84 percent of the nearly $6 million that candidates raised. Citizen Action ran those numbers again this year (before the primary election), and reported that 93 percent of the already $6 million raised had come from large contributors.

The group analyzed the addresses of donors and determined that people living in the 10 wealthiest zip codes in Arizona--nine of them are in Paradise Valley and environs--accounted for 45 percent of all giving so far in 1998.

Lawyers and lobbyists account for the greatest share of such giving, according to Citizen Action, chipping in $561,000 in all of 1996 and $767,000 before the primary election in 1998. Donors from the financial, insurance and real estate industry were a close second both years, followed by the health-care industry.

Another watchdog group, Arizona Common Cause, examined 1998 contributions to legislative candidates and determined that 75 percent of all contributions came from "lobby-oriented" givers--and that this was true for Republicans and Democrats alike. Non-incumbent Republicans got about 60 percent of their funding from lobby-oriented givers, the group said, while for non-incumbent Democrats the figure was 45 percent.

"If you want to run for the Legislature, you go down and meet with the lobbyists," says Jim Driscoll, director of Citizen Action. "If they like what you say, they raise money and they go on your campaign committee. If you win, they go in and take advantage of that level of access that they've earned.

"There are literally hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate subsidies that have gone out over the last few years. It's generally acknowledged that the best investment a corporation can make is a campaign contribution, because you can get returns of hundreds or thousands to one."

Proposition 200 is also designed to encourage more candidates to seek office.

There are 90 seats in the Legislature--30 in the Senate, 60 in the House. Thirty-one of those seats are uncontested on Tuesday's general-election ballot. And of the 171 candidates who appeared on the primary ballot, a whopping 110 (64 percent) had no primary opposition--they got free rides to the general-election ballot.

In 1996, 14 of 30 senators faced no opposition in the general election.
In the past 15 state House elections, incumbents have won 90.4 percent of the time. The figure is lower--86.28 percent--in state Senate races since 1968. But the figure has dipped below 90 percent in only two elections since 1980.

Chuck Huggins, secretary-treasurer of the Arizona AFL-CIO, says his group supports Proposition 200 primarily because it will encourage more people to seek office.

Ruth Jones of ASU says that if Proposition 200 passes, "I think you'll probably get more candidates running in relatively competitive elections. There will be more competition, and from where I sit, that would be a good thing."

It's an October 5 fund raiser at the Wrigley Mansion Conference Center to benefit Proposition 200. Rabble-rousing newspaper columnist Molly Ivins is regaling the crowd with Texas-flavored witticisms and a robust condemnation of campaign finance as we know it.

She says Proposition 200 is a leading wave in a reform tide that will sweep the nation and wash away tainted campaign cash and its residue: "Government of the corporate special interests, by the corporate special interests and for the corporate special interests."

It's a crucial movement that's not getting the attention it deserves, Ivins says.

"What you're doing is more important than Bill Clinton's dick," she drawls.
The pro-200 troops burst into applause.
Ivins is succeeded onstage by Jim Driscoll, director of Arizona Citizen Action, and also a founding member of the Proposition 200 steering committee.

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