Wash Daze

Now in its first cycle, Arizona's new Clean Elections law is putting bureaucrats and candidates through the wringer

Across town, there's another guy who's been getting up early these days. Rick Slaugenhoupt shows up for work at the Arizona State Capitol at 4 a.m. and doesn't leave 'til 6 or 7 at night. As the campaign finance supervisor of the Secretary of State's election services division, Slaugenhoupt is one of a staff of eight trying to keep up with the extra work the Clean Elections law has created for his office. (On the bright side, he says, he always gets a good parking spot.)

This time of year is already Slaugenhoupt's crunch time. He and the rest of the office's small staff are responsible for maintaining all campaign finance filings for legislative and statewide candidates, as well as the dozen-plus proposed initiatives that will be on the ballot this fall. When the petition signatures for a candidate or an initiative are challenged, the Secretary of State's Office handles the case.

State Elections Director Jessica Funkhauser shows off the Secretary of State's Clean Elections files.
Paolo Vescia
State Elections Director Jessica Funkhauser shows off the Secretary of State's Clean Elections files.
State Senate candidate Susan Gerard isn't running "clean," but says the paperwork is still a "nightmare."
Paolo Vescia
State Senate candidate Susan Gerard isn't running "clean," but says the paperwork is still a "nightmare."

The Clean Elections law provides for financial reimbursement to government offices like the Secretary of State, which incur extra work as a result of carrying out the law. But there's a snafu: The Secretary of State bills the Clean Elections Commission (charged with administering the law and handling the money) for its time and expenses, but the reimbursement goes into the state's General Fund.

The Secretary of State's Office doesn't get any extra help -- not this year, at least.

Deputy secretary of state Warren Whitney explains: "Rick [Slaugenhoupt] is a full-time employee that was allocated to the office to do campaign finance reporting. The fact that he might spend half his time now on Clean Elections only means he's got a lot more work to do. He doesn't get paid extra to do it. If he spends half his time working on Clean Elections, then they pay us back and we deposit it to the General Fund. It doesn't create an extra half-time employee or a full-time employee to relieve Rick of his duties. So for us it's a lot of extra work, and at this point we have to do that."

Again, blame that Supreme Court case. It was tough to make provisions for a lawsuit whose outcome was unknown.

In the future, Whitney hopes to enter into an intergovernmental agreement in which the Clean Elections Commission would lend staff to his office. But for now, he says, "Frankly, it would take more time for our staff that does know the act to bring someone in who doesn't know it. . . . Right now, we're doing it. It's a lot of work. We're going to do it somehow."

Here's how the Clean Elections law increases the workload -- not just for the Secretary of State, but for others, as well:

Each legislative candidate must gather 200 contributions of $5, along with a signed form from each contributor -- who must be a registered voter living in the candidate's district. The number for statewide candidates varies, depending upon the office; this year the only statewide office on the ballot is the Corporation Commission, which requires 1,500 contributions of $5 for a candidate to qualify.

Once the contributions are submitted to the Secretary of State, every form must be individually stamped and assigned a number. That takes 15 to 20 minutes for a legislative candidate and up to four hours for a statewide candidate.

Then a random sample is taken and sent to the appropriate county recorder, for verification.

If the random sample comes back with an invalid result, all of the signatures must be checked by the county recorder.

The law also requires that all candidates -- including "dirty" ones -- file their campaign finance reports electronically. During the last election cycle, only about 15 percent of all Arizona candidates filed electronically. Compliance is now at more than 90 percent, and Secretary of State staffers have been on the phones constantly, walking candidates through the process.

As the campaigns progress, filing requirements increase. Where quarterly reports were once enough, now some candidates (depending upon how much they raise and spend) will have to file as often as daily, toward the end of the campaign. All of this must be monitored by the Secretary of State's Office, which created new software to handle the new procedures. (Don't comply, and you could be fined $100 a day.)

In addition, the Secretary of State's Office must bill registered lobbyists -- about 650 statewide -- $100 a year, and pass that money on for administration of the law.

Karen Osborne, elections director for the Maricopa County Recorder's Office, says her office is also billing the Clean Elections Commission for work performed, but hasn't added staff. So far, she says, the workload is manageable, but only because relatively few people are running as "clean" candidates.

The 2002 election season may be different.

"At some point, our people are not going to be able to do it," she says. "It'll take us to our knees. Because it comes at exactly the same time that you have the candidate nominating petition challenges, and that's interwoven with the initiative petitions. And at some point, you run out of resources, no matter how many people and how much computer power you have."

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