Wash Daze

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

As with most new laws, there have been snags. The Clean Elections Commission recently ruled that candidates who didn't have enough valid signatures to qualify could keep coming back until they got enough (the deadline for all "clean" candidates to qualify is August 31). Osborne says there are questions about just what constitutes a valid signature, since no one's ever before faced the issue of residency in a legislative district. (For example, if you make a $5 contribution to a candidate while you're living in the district, but move before he files, does your contribution qualify?)

And Jessica Funkhauser, the state elections director and a Secretary of State employee, says she's been told that the statistical measure used to create a random sample for testing the validity of 150,000 names on an initiative does not work when applied to the small numbers of signatures/contributions the Clean Elections law requires. That will have to be addressed.

Funkhauser and Slaugenhoupt have maintained a sense of humor about the whole thing. From behind a desk overflowing with towers of paperwork, Funkhauser offers her explanation of the new campaign finance software her office designed: "I tell people it's like a little package of birth control pills. It's not going to keep you out of trouble unless you use it -- and you've gotta use it every day."

Sharlene Bozack, executive director of the Clean Elections Institute, says the positive effects of the law are already apparent.
Paolo Vescia
Sharlene Bozack, executive director of the Clean Elections Institute, says the positive effects of the law are already apparent.

All things considered, the implementation of Arizona's Clean Elections law is going pretty smoothly, its supporters say.

The state is already reaping the rewards, according to the Clean Elections Institute's Sharlene Bozack, who points out that there are many more contested races this year than in previous election cycles.

That could have more to do with another reform -- term limits, passed years ago but only now taking effect in the Legislature -- than Clean Elections, but certainly the campaign finance reform law doesn't hurt. And Bozack is convinced that yet another proposed reform -- the creation of a redistricting commission, which will be on November's ballot -- would help make districts like LD 30, where Jay Blanchard is tilting at Jeff Groscost's GOP windmill, more competitive.

Many of the Chicken Little predictions made by Clean Elections naysayers during the campaign to pass the law have not come true. A number of legislative contenders from economically challenged districts have qualified as Clean Elections candidates, despite criticism that it would be difficult to collect the $5 contributions in those areas. The couple of dozen candidates who did not have computers, and thus, no way of complying with the law's electronic filing mandate, have found alternatives, with the Secretary of State's help. And for now, at least, the Clean Elections fund is flush with cash -- not drained, as critics predicted.

But it's way too soon to judge the law a success, according to the naysayers. Some are already eyeing the money in the Clean Elections fund.

Janice Goldstein, executive director of the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association and a vocal opponent of the Clean Elections law, says, "That money's sitting around in a designated fund, gathering interest . . . and we've got schools where the roofs are falling in on classrooms. We've got kids going to school in trailers, and here we have millions of dollars sitting there, going to waste."

Goldstein criticizes the law on many fronts, saying it's not user-friendly, it's not leading to any competitive races and its timetable is screwed up, in that candidates will still be collecting $5 contributions to get on the ballot 10 days after early voting starts.

And the law has not stopped candidates from looking to special interests for money. Goldstein says she has received calls from candidates asking her to help raise their $2,500 seed money.

Susan Gerard, a House veteran who is term-limited this year and running for the Senate in central Phoenix's District 18, is not using Clean Elections. She's unopposed, and says both the pending Supreme Court case and the bother of raising the 200 contributions of $5 kept her away.

"No one knew if it was going to get through court, no one knew how it was going to work, so it seemed a lot easier to just do it the old-fashioned way, raise money," she says.

Even the paperwork she has to file as a "dirty" candidate is a "nightmare," Gerard says.

She agrees with Goldstein that Clean Elections candidates will be turning to special interests -- even to raise their $5 contributions. That's how she would do it, Gerard acknowledges.

"It's going to be no different than getting PAC [political action committee] checks, because you're going to call groups. You're going to call the AEA [Arizona Education Association], you're going to call Planned Parenthood. . . . You're going to call the organizations and get to their membership in your district," she says.

Other critics of the law seem to have adopted an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude. Arizona's senior Senator John McCain -- a nationally renowned hero of the campaign finance reform movement -- sat on his hands during the Clean Elections campaign in 1998, explaining that he is very much opposed to publicly financed campaigns.

But apparently the senator has had a change of heart -- or at least, of head. He sent an e-mail last month to his supporters, soliciting $5 Clean Elections contributions for Republican Marc Spitzer, who's running for the Corporation Commission.

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