Kelty still supports the idea of Clean Elections. But, she says, "as a supporter of public financing for elections, it's disconcerting to me that Clean Elections survived a number of court challenges, only to have the system undone by candidates who were themselves beneficiaries of the system."

George's plan ultimately didn't quite work.

In the general election, the wealthy consultant again poured a quarter-million dollars into his campaign, and again triggered similar sums for his opponents. Yes, the Republican candidates also benefited at that point, but the Solar Team had a running start, thanks to the expensive primary.

For the first time in a decade, a Democrat won a seat on the Corporation Commission. And not just one Democrat — both Kennedy and Newman were elected.

George ended up losing by a hair, to the only person with a better victory plan than his own complicated formula. Former state legislator Bob Stump just happens to have the same name as an incredibly popular late former Arizona congressman.

Never mind that this Stump grew up in Hawaii and bears no relation, save party affiliation, to the late congressman. It was still enough to eke out a third-place finish.


Todd Lang, executive director of the Clean Elections Commission, insists that any problems with the system are minimal.

"Any campaign consultant worth their salt will try to game whatever system's in place," he says. "I don't see that as a Clean Elections problem. I see that as the result of political strategies. And what changes behavior is when these strategies don't work." As one example, he notes, Sam George ultimately didn't win his seat on the Corporation Commission. "The point is, it didn't work."

Don't tell that to the Democratic Party. Despite George's loss, the party sees the election of Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman as its greatest success in 2008.

And even if Lang doesn't see a problem, politicians on both sides of the aisle do. State Representative Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, says that the most recent election cycle was an eye-opener: "It exposed some of the problems with the Clean Elections system."

Campbell still believes in the system but says he'd like to see reform. He's introduced a bill to close at least one loophole in the system. "This is public money," he says. "We need a higher standard of accountability and transparency."

But no matter what happens in the statehouse, there's a good chance we won't see shenanigans quite so obvious as Sam George's Solar Team in future election cycles. That's thanks to what's happening in the courthouse.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision on Davis v. FEC. That decision struck down the federal "Millionaire's Amendment," which allowed candidates facing wealthy, self-funded opponent to enjoy higher-than-normal contribution limits.

The Davis decision is complicated, but here's the gist. Campaign-finance law had long held that if candidates were facing an opponent who put millions of personal wealth into his own campaign, they'd be allowed to raise more money from individual donors to level the playing field.

The court found that provision unconstitutional. Spending on political campaigns is a form of free speech, it held, so the Millionaire's Amendment was unfair to, well, millionaires. Just because a candidate is rich shouldn't mean that fundraising rules change for his opponent. That's an illegal "drag" on the millionaire's free speech rights.

The court made one exception: programs in which the state could justify a compelling interest in stopping corruption.

Reading the court's decision, Nick Dran­ias, a lawyer at the Goldwater Institute who specializes in First Amendment work, quickly realized that Arizona had a problem.

If raising contribution limits to even the playing field with wealthy candidates is unconstitutional, surely so is a state system that guarantees public funding for that purpose. After all, if a candidate like Sam George spends $500,000 of his own money, Clean Elections matches that for his opponent.

Isn't that a drag on George's free speech?

And really, didn't the George case show compellingly that matching funds didn't so much stop corruption as increase it?

The Goldwater Institute filed suit in federal court in late summer. And though U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver refused to issue a restraining order halting matching funds for last fall's election, she did issue a ruling suggesting that there's a substantial likelihood Goldwater will win on the merits. The matching funds, she agreed, are unconstitutional.

Lang, the Clean Elections Commission's executive director, is confident that Clean Elections can win at trial. "The whole point of the First Amendment is to ensure a robust political debate," he says. "That's what matching funds do."

But observers — some of them strong supporters of the system — are less confident. They feel Judge Silver used pretty strong language in her initial ruling and will be unlikely to change course now.

Without a matching funds provision, they say, Clean Elections is doomed.

"You won't see any incumbents using Clean Elections, that's for sure," said one prominent Democratic campaign consultant. "It would be like putting a bull's-eye on your back." After all, by accepting Clean Elections money, candidates agree to strict spending limits — making them vulnerable to attack without matching funds.

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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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