Wash Daze

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

Jay Blanchard is exhausted. "Please excuse the bags under my eyes," he says as he slaps a piece of lettuce on his lunch, tuna on whole wheat. Blanchard was up long before dawn on this late July morning, putting up signs for his legislative campaign. Most candidates would hire out the work, but the Democrat can't afford it. He's on a strict budget.

Making history can be tiring. This spring, Blanchard became Arizona's first "Clean Elections" candidate.

He's been followed by 35 others, including four running for statewide office. All are guinea pigs in a national experiment in campaign finance reform started through initiatives recently passed in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and Arizona. This fall, voters will decide on similar measures in Oregon and Missouri.

Jay Blanchard, Arizona's first Clean Elections candidate.
Paolo Vescia
Jay Blanchard, Arizona's first Clean Elections candidate.
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."
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.

The idea behind the laws (Arizona's was passed by the people in 1998) is to run voluntary, publicly financed campaigns in which candidates for state and legislative offices get enough public money -- gathered through lobbyist registration fees, increased court fees and voluntary tax check-offs -- to launch viable campaigns. In exchange, candidates give up the traditional fund-raising techniques that critics say have allowed special interests to run governments by fueling campaigns.

Maine and Arizona are the first to test their new laws. About a third of the candidates for office this fall in Maine are using "Clean Elections." Sharlene Bozack, executive director of Arizona's Clean Elections Institute, estimates that as many as 54 candidates will sign up here by the deadline at the end of this month. That would put Arizona's participation down around 20 percent, but there's a reason. Many potential "clean" candidates were scared off because the law was in jeopardy until a state Supreme Court ruling in June. (A federal case regarding the Arizona law is still pending, but observers doubt it will go anywhere.)

Ironically, low participation may be a good thing -- at least for this year. The influence of special interests may eventually be diminished by Arizona's Clean Elections law, but a more immediate impact is the growth of bureaucracy associated with it. From the Secretary of State's Office down to each candidate -- even those who are not "clean" -- there's been an explosion of red tape, and not always enough staff to untangle it.

Jay Blanchard says it's all worth the effort.

"If this flies," he says of Clean Elections, "it's the most profound change in Arizona politics since statehood."

It's certainly his only chance. When Blanchard, a professor of education at Arizona State University, decided last year to run for office, he knew nothing about the Clean Elections law. In fact, he was a political novice altogether, but even he knew the first ingredient in any successful campaign: money. He started soliciting union reps and chamber of commerce lobbyists, asking if he could count on their support.

"Usually, they were nice enough to see me," Blanchard says. But "almost to the person," everyone told him no.

No one wanted to fund a lost cause -- or infuriate a powerful legislator. Blanchard, a Democrat, is running for the Senate in Legislative District 30, one of the state's most heavily Republican districts. And he's running against Jeff Groscost, the current Republican Speaker of the House who has held his seat in the district for the past eight years.

Groscost is infamous for both his long memory and his long enemies list. Blanchard knew he was SOL.

Then someone mentioned Clean Elections. Blanchard investigated and decided to sign up. The process was so new that when he showed up at the Arizona Secretary of State's Office to register, there was no form for him to fill out. They created one, and Blanchard got started. Under the law, he was allowed to spend $500 of his own and raise another $2,500 in $100 increments from anyone he wanted. To qualify as a Clean Elections candidate, he was required to raise 200 contributions of $5 each from people living in his district.

It wasn't easy. "First thing you do is contact every person you know, everybody you've seen in the last 30 days," Blanchard says. Then you get out the phone book.

Blanchard brought the money and signatures to the Secretary of State, and two weeks later, he had a check for $10,000.

That means Blanchard's got $13,000 to spend in the primary. As of last week, he was down to $900. As of late June, Groscost, who's not a "clean" candidate, had $70,000 in the bank.

After the primary (there's no Democratic opposition, and Groscost is expected to trounce his own primary opponent), Blanchard will get an additional $15,000 -- maybe more, depending on how much Groscost has. The Clean Elections law provides for matching funds up to $45,000.

Will it be enough to beat Groscost? Probably not.

"It doesn't level the playing field. But it does put you on the field," Blanchard says.

He's just happy to be part of the game. Even if means giving up sleep. And Blanchard hasn't even gotten to the stage of requiring daily financial reports.

"It's not only that these campaigns are grassroots, they're homemade. And it's not for the squeamish," he warns. "There is no glamour or glory to getting up at 4:15 in the morning and driving to Sun Lakes and pounding stakes in the ground."


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.

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."

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."


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.

Even Jay Heiler, a Phoenix political consultant and one of the few who publicly opposed passage of the law in 1998, has softened his attitude -- a bit. Heiler insists the real fireworks are still to come, that eventually candidates will use the Clean Elections Commission and its rules as weapons the way candidates this year used the courts and signature requirements to knock each other off the ballot.

But Heiler admits that he'll likely pony up some Clean Elections contributions -- and says he doesn't harbor ill will toward the new process.

"If it's going to be the law," he says, "I hope it all works well."

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