Some candidates also appear to have used public funds to enrich their own business interests. Republican Andre Campos was given $45,841 in public funds for his unsuccessful Senate bid. He spent more than half of it, $23,155, at a firm called Image Design Communications.

The firm's sole owner? Andre Campos himself — a guy who lists his principal business as a firm called Spanky Entertainment Marketing. Yep, Campos apparently took a break from marketing bars and clubs to obtain public funding to market himself. (Campos didn't return calls for comment.)

John Fillmore, a Republican running for state representative in Apache Junction, didn't even bother writing a check to a company he owned. Instead, he simply paid himself $2,861 in "petty cash/miscellaneous." Fillmore says he used the cash to avoid his bank's "exorbitant" checking fees.

Fillmore also paid $17,350 to Mesa attorney Daniel Washburn for "communications," according to records. Washburn was "helping me a lot, helping me orchestrate polling places throughout the district," Fillmore says. Would that help have cost so much if he weren't running with a slush fund, courtesy of the taxpayers? Fillmore isn't sure.

"Yeah, it's a lot of money, but it also isn't," he says. "You try to spend where you can and get some good out of it. You don't know if you are or not. You just kind of give it your best shot, you know?"

Then there's Daniel Veres, a Republican running in South Phoenix. He paid a former radio DJ $21,558 for "get out the vote" efforts and "communication" — including, at one point, $540 to set up a MySpace page.

Veres says he's happy with his consultant's efforts, but he didn't exactly get much bang for his buck. His MySpace page drew just 48 friends.


Jackie Thrasher is just the kind of candidate the Clean Elections system was designed to help. The Glendale mom was a band teacher at Lookout Mountain Elementary, a pragmatic Democrat who knew about life beyond politics but didn't have the money or wealthy contacts necessary to finance a campaign.

So when Thrasher ran for office in 2006, she ran clean. Without Clean Elections, Thrasher would have spent months courting donors and raising money. With it, the mom and teacher took just weeks to qualify for the $65,699 she eventually received to finance her campaign.

Thrasher is still grateful for the support. But last fall, when she was up for re-election, she saw the dark side of Clean Elections. Locked in a tight campaign with the small business owner she'd unseated just two years before, Thrasher was forced to stand by as her opponents gamed the very system that was supposed to prevent corruption.

In 2008, both Thrasher and her opponent, Republican Doug Quelland, ran as clean candidates. But the Clean Elections Commission recently examined allegations that Quelland illegally exceeded spending limits in his narrow victory.

According to testimony at the commission's meeting last December, Quelland hired a company called Intermedia to do some consulting and build a Web site. Intermedia's owner, Larry Davis, says the candidate paid him $11,000, plus free rent in a strip mall Quelland owned.

Quelland never reported that as a campaign expense. At the commission meeting, his lawyer argued that the work performed by Davis was merely a benefit to Quelland's business, a coffee shop, not the campaign. He agreed that the initial contract did call for campaign work, but that Quelland wasn't happy with Davis' services and fired him.

Davis angrily disputed that.

"[I]f you go [to] Mr. Quelland's bank and subpoena his records, you will have $11,000 in payments to my firm," he said. "Again, not for passing out fliers [for the coffee shop]. My vendors will also come in here and tell you as well that they worked with our firm well past March 10 to create his red [campaign] 'Q' T-shirts, to create his fliers . . .

"And I will be glad to bring folks in here at any time to tell you that we were out there pounding those signs with Mr. Quelland every day of the week."

The stakes are high. If Davis really did $11,000 in work for Quelland's campaign, it would put Quelland well over the spending limits he agreed to as a clean candidate. Those limits are strictly enforced for a reason: The system simply wouldn't work if candidates took an infusion from government, only to subsidize their campaigns secretly with their own funds.

While Quelland's lawyer denied the charges, the commission has directed its staff to investigate further. (Quelland did not respond to a request for comment.)

If the commission finds that Quelland exceeded his spending limits to that degree, he could be removed from office — a fate that's been suffered by only one previous candidate, David Burnell Smith.

But that's small consolation to the Democrats, who lost the seat by the narrowest of margins. As Jackie Thrasher points out, even if Quelland is removed, it's up to leaders in his own party to replace him.

And Quelland's alleged overspending was hardly the only dirty trick that Clean Elections may have unwittingly financed in District 10. Far more insidious is the very strange case of Margarite Dale, the aforementioned housewife turned Green Party candidate.

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21 comments
Henry
Henry

"The state's landmark Clean Elections system began with the best of intentions. Progressives wanted to reduce the role of money in politics…"

And this is progressivism in a nutshell. Pass a stupid law "with good intentions," then never take any responsibility for the actual consequences. When it doesn't succeed or (more often) actually proves destructive, do they ever repeal the failed law? No, they "fix it" by layering on it another stupid law "with good intentions," until the whole edifice eventually comes crashing down.

iJames
iJames

Your language is offensive. Your loathing of progress is too. Take your foul biased mouth and go simmer with other partisan nutjobs.

Maassive
Maassive

Hmmmm... Does Fenske remember what it was like to search campaign finance records before the Clean Elections Act took effect?

Jim
Jim

"Clean Elections means more independent candidates, and not the same ol�, same ol� who keep getting elected in this state."

The problem is that has not happened. The promise goal of Clean Campaign Funds has not been realized. The reasons for that are not all that complicated. One of the reasons is the way Clean Campaign Funds are run and the "rules" that one must follow while competing with well funded, well organized party machinery that has nothing to do with a persons own campaign funds. The playing field is NOT level.

Using Clean Campaign Funds puts a candidate at a disadvantage from the get go IF your competition is being propped up by either party's state machinery.

The problem with elections in Arizona and the U.S. in general is the public just does not want to open its eyes and see what is going on AND the media is not going to report it as it really is. The media is a leach earning its way off the system as it is.

Clean Campaign Funds fixes nothing. Its a drop of clean water into a very large barrel of a putrid mess. Fix the barrel of putrid mess!

Jim
Jim

Could you slant this article a little more favorable for Jackie Thrasher? I mean really? Are you her speech writer?

Maybe her children were born by immaculate conception?

Your bias really distracts from the news in this article.

Dave
Dave

Randy P. and the Goldwater Institute concern about the First Amendment is heart rendering, but in reality they don't care one iota about the First Amendment. There version of the First Amendment means the big money guys they have always supported will always get their money to run their "message" and anyone else should just stay out. Their version of the First Amendment is grounded in the interests of conservative think tanks, less taxes for big developers and corporations, less regulation on billboard companies, and right wing religious groups. These groups need anyone else to have no chance at running, to keep our low tax, low pay, State model going on a race to the bottom of education, and university support. These two cannot stand the thought that an AEA member, an environmentalist, an AFL-CIO candidate, or or any local official, ie, school board member or city council person, grounded in reality, would ever be successful, if they don't come, hat in hand to big money interests, to run for State office. Our current system has elected some small time candidates, including a few Republicans that would otherwise never had a chance, including one in Mohave County. Make a few corrections to the law, but to throw it out means the Goldwater version of the First Amendment will always rule.

Editorial Assistant
Editorial Assistant

From Letters to the Editor:

Sarah Fenske�s story exposed an outrage in these hard economic times. We can no longer afford this lefty law. Clean Elections financing sushi dinners. The very idea!

Franklin Dent, Bullhead City

Editorial Assistant
Editorial Assistant

From Letters to the Editor:

There�ll be a load of big-spending pols who will agree with the premise in Sarah Fenske�s story that it�s bad for taxpayers to fund candidates who couldn�t otherwise run. But aren�t these kind of office-seekers at the foundation of our democracy? Who knows, maybe one of them will eff up and win? We can�t just return to the time when seeking office was a rich person�s game only. Sure, there are abuses, but stop them and move ahead with what was -- and is -- a good idea.

Lisa Summerfield, Denver

Editorial Assistant
Editorial Assistant

From Letters to the Editor:

We shouldn�t throw Clean Elections away because there are loopholes. Close the loopholes, and it will still be a good idea. Of course, it�s bad that some fringe candidates use the money as �personal slush funds,� but they are the exception not the rule.

Beth Spitz, Tucson

Editorial Assistant
Editorial Assistant

From Letters to the Editor:

There are many times when candidates without the wherewithal to run for office are able to do so because of Clean Elelctions� funds. You focused too much on the problems and not enough on the good. Clean Elections means more independent candidates, and not the same ol�, same ol� who keep getting elected in this state, because they get plenty of money from special interests.

Andrew White, Phoenix

Editorial Assistant
Editorial Assistant

From Letters to the Editor:

Sarah Fenske�s Clean Elections law story was spot on. She brought up all the problems with the law therein, identifying what needs to be done. Get rid of the damn law!

Sandy Richardson, Phoenix

Editorial Assistant
Editorial Assistant

From Letters to the Editor:

I read with interest your recent article entitled, �The Dirty Truth about �Clean Elections� and was delighted to learn that your in-depth examination has revealed what Republicans in Arizona have argued since the inception of the program nearly a decade ago: The law lacks the fundamental understanding of our 1st amendment right to free speech, in any of its various forms, including financial contributions to state and local candidates for office who share your political views. The Goldwater Institute rightfully asserts that Arizona�s Clean Elections statutes are a violation of our 1st amendment right to free speech and thereby unconstitutional. In fact, as the piece clearly illustrates, the system of publicly financed campaigns does more harm than good to our election process. The political reality is that the system rewards fringe candidates with little public support and discourages civic leaders from taking part in the process. Frankly, I�m encouraged that New Times would print such an insightful article, and you are to be commended for your diligence in interviewing various candidates - from both sides of the aisle - who clearly describe that our worst fears are indeed coming to fruition. I would like to also mention who was the key proponent and financier behind this voter initiative, none other than Jim Pederson, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party. As we have learned time and again, government does very little well and usually at a great expense. Clean Elections is no exception and is a gigantic waste of our hard-earned taxpayers� money. With the elimination of just this particular program, how many teachers� jobs could we save? How many after-school programs could be fully funded? It is my hope that this article builds on the groundswell of bipartisan opposition against this ill-conceived voter initiative. From all indications, I expect that the litigation the Goldwater Institute has brought forward is successful in sweeping this unfortunate governmental intrusion on our constitutional rights into Arizona�s history books. It is this kind of thoughtful journalism that New Times should continue to print, and I would encourage them to submit the piece for an AZ Press Club award.

Randy Pullen, Arizona Republican Party chairman

Fascist Nation
Fascist Nation

CLean elections expenditures are perfectly OK unless you happen to be three young college age students in an ASU district whom qualify, and spend $100,000 on car rentals, laptops and pumping your potential voters at the local nightclubs in your district. Then you must be made example of. Even though everything you did was perfectly legal. MADE

EXAMPLE

OF

Dave
Dave

The problem is that the First Amendment has somehow been corrupted by court interpretation to mean spending unlimited amounts of money equals free speech. Stand on a soap box in the town square all day if you want. Yet the ones with money are always trying to limit someone else from spending money on "free Speech", usually some union's speech. But for corporations, the NRA, and the Club for Growth spending millions means getting it "message" out. The $5.00 donation from mutiple small doners is really the correct approach, to obtain the Clean elections funding. It is too bad the system is manipulated.

KTARSUCKSdotCOM
KTARSUCKSdotCOM

We can't throw Clean Elections away because of some loopholes. Close the loopholes and tighten up the laws. If we want to keep it (and we should), then all candidates must run clean. This alone will solve the nastiest abuses spoken about in the article.

And as for Reps running as Greens, then make it mandatory that candidates belong to the party they are running for a year or two.

Marcy
Marcy

Steve,

You can't ban private dollars from elections due to a little thing called FREE SPEECH.

And "free" doesn't refer to the cost of the speech.

This was all quite predictable.

Steve
Steve

How's this for real reform? ALL political campaigns are publicly funded. NO candidate can spend his own money or raise a penny from anyone. To get on the ballot to begin with a candidate would have to get a qualifying number of signatures and he couldn't hire anyone to do that for him. Media ads up to X amount of dollars would be available to all candidates at taxpayer expense, and no other media buys would be allowed,period. THAT is a level playing field. NO PRIVATE MONEY AT ALL ALLOWED.

Dave
Dave

There are a number of cases where Clean Elections helped a good candidate run without raising money left and right. You should write about the good circumstances. There will always be those who game the system. Is is better to have only those who can raise money from special interests running? The voters have to be smart enough to see through the frauds. In this State some voters will vote for the most extreme candidate regardless. That is how Governor Mecham got into office. Even without Clean Elections on the Federal level that buffoon Trent Franks keeps getting reelected, voters blindly voting for this one track ideologue.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

It's hard to outdo Coz's comment. He hit the nail on the head.

Coz
Coz

There is no such thing as Clean Politicians, so how can there be clean elections ?

 
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