The Serene Clean Elections Machine
None of this happens in Arizona.
An unassuming health-food salesman from Scottsdale does not craft a law designed to separate elected officials from the campaign contributions they glean from the lobbyists who wield influence at the state Capitol.
A grandmother from Sun City West certainly does not organize and nurture a committee that gathers 197,000 signatures to put the law on the November 3 ballot. The reformers do not tap far-flung billionaires and cash-rich advocacy groups, amassing $805,924 to get their message to voters.
The movement does not confound and muzzle the mandarins, who do not go underground to wring their hands while a few of their number scramble to fight a rearguard action.
These things just don't happen in Arizona. Until now.
Such is the story of Proposition 200, the Citizens Clean Elections Act, which would establish public financing for legislative and statewide campaigns.
Proponents and foes alike agree that Proposition 200 could cause a tectonic shift in Arizona's political landscape.
"A lot of people's ox will be gored with this," says Ruth Jones, a professor of political science at Arizona State University who specializes in the arcana of campaign finance.
State senator Chris Cummiskey, a Democrat who supports Proposition 200, calls it "radical."
"Most of the special interests and the people who represent industry at the Capitol are uniformly opposed to this," Cummiskey says, "so that makes me think that maybe we're on the right track."
Polls suggest that the measure is popular--it leads by more than 20 points, with many people undecided. But the only salient poll will be conducted by Arizona voters on Tuesday.
How could this happen? How could the power brokers allow such potentially potent antiseptic to be splashed all over Arizona's body politic?
"I'm not sure anybody took it seriously or paid any attention to it," says Janice Goldstein, director of the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association and an ardent foe of Proposition 200. "It has real long-term implications that people just haven't looked at."
People who have looked at it are reluctant to denounce it. "It's been difficult organizing opposition to this," says state Senator Tom Patterson, another detractor. "Everybody who's opposed to it has a reason to be quiet."
But oppose it they will.
Goldstein, Patterson and a few others have cobbled together a meager counterattack. The group, titled "Not With the Public's Money--No on Proposition 200," filed organizational papers with the Secretary of State on October 16. A spokesman says the group hopes to raise $40,000 to buy radio ads attacking 200.
Kaia Lenhart, political director of Arizonans for Clean Elections, says she and her cohorts have been waiting for organized opposition to surface.
"Big money that has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo is going to come out and oppose this," Lenhart says. "Right now, they run the current system and they feel pretty threatened by the prospect of losing that control."
Proposition 200 would allow candidates for legislative and statewide offices who gather a minimum number of $5 contributions to then renounce further private contributions. In return, they would receive campaign money from the state (see accompanying story for details).
Under the Citizens Clean Elections Act, a candidate seeking a seat in the Legislature could get up to $25,000 to pay for primary- and general-election campaigns; a candidate for governor could get up to $950,000 for both elections. Funding would come from surcharges on civil and criminal fines, tax donations, and from a four-fold boost in the fee lobbyists must pay.
The Clean Elections campaign team is a diverse amalgam that includes the Arizona chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, United We Stand-Arizona, the AFL-CIO and the Arizona Civil Liberties Union.
Its backers say Proposition 200 would make politicians accountable to the voters, not the interest groups who fund their campaigns. Rather than raising money for campaigns, politicians will spend more time dealing with constituents and trying to solve problems, they say. Supporters also claim it will allow more people who are not wealthy or have access to special-interest money to seek office.
Proposition 200's detractors--and just about everybody who has any influence seems to be against it--say the measure would infringe on free speech, establish welfare for politicians, and that the lure of free campaign cash would attract too many candidates. Taxpayers would chafe at seeing public money handed out to extremist candidates, foes claim. They even worry that candidates would simply pocket the money rather than use it for legitimate campaign expenses.
Is Proposition 200 sound public policy? Would it work? Some common questions about Proposition 200:
* Would it constitute a tax increase?
Any tax dollars entering a state Clean Elections Fund would have to be designated to go there by individual taxpayers. State income tax filers could check a box on their returns that commits $5 to the fund. They also could designate 20 percent or $500, whichever is greater, of their taxes to the Clean Elections Fund; neither designation would lessen their tax liability.
So, yes. Money that normally would go to the state general fund would go to the Clean Elections Fund.
In Patterson's view, whenever a taxpayer designates money for the Clean Elections Fund, "everybody else has to pay more taxes, or something doesn't get funded. It doesn't make any difference whether it's your tax money or my tax money--it's tax money."
Gary Tredway, the Scottsdale activist instrumental in creating Proposition 200, says a Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis belies Patterson's claim.
"The JLBC has analyzed Proposition 200's effects on the budget, and it will not reduce the general fund," Tredway says. "As a matter of fact, it will add to the general fund, so there's no way it will take away existing programs."
The JLBC report estimates that about 70 percent of the Clean Elections Fund would come not from tax filers but from a new surcharge on fines levied by Arizona courts.
"I'm not putting a whole lot of faith in the JLBC numbers," says state Representative Mike Gardner, a Republican and critic of Proposition 200. "Because you don't know how many people are going to run for office if you dangle that carrot--free money."
The JLBC guessed at the number of candidates who would run. For example, the JLBC's projections were based on a gubernatorial race that features seven primary candidates and three in the general. The numbers also assume that a third of all candidates would not volunteer to enter the Clean Elections program.
* Will my tax dollars go to candidates who don't share my political views?
Under Proposition 200, you would probably see public funds go to candidates you disapprove of.
Fans of 200 say that's preferable to having your tax dollars go to special interests in the form of tax breaks.
Lila Schwartz, who chairs Arizonans for Clean Elections, notes that the state currently allows citizens to designate a portion of their taxes for specific parochial schools. She says taxpayers should find that more objectionable than funding campaigns, which she calls "a social good."
* Could candidates spend the money on anything they want?
"If this does pass, let me use this opportunity to announce my race for governor," Janice Goldstein says. "I could use the $950,000."
Tredway says the five-member Clean Elections Commission that would be established under Proposition 200 would not allow a candidate to misspend campaign funds. The law states that candidates must disclose how much they spend and the "nature of goods and services and compensation for which payment has been made." Any unspent campaign money would be returned to the state.
"The commission will make rules for the participating candidates as far as what they consider legitimate expenditures," Tredway says.
* Would Clean Elections candidates receive realistic sums?
Senator Chris Cummiskey, a Proposition 200 supporter, believes the spending limits built into the measure are its weakest point.
"Can a challenger unseat an incumbent for $25,000? I'm not sure," says Cummiskey.
On rare occasions, legislative candidates have spent in excess of $100,000 on a campaign.
Tredway acknowledges that candidates sometimes spend far more than the limits spelled out in Proposition 200, but he believes the new law would put a brake on spiraling campaign costs.
"Most legislative races are in the $25,000 range or a little lower," Tredway says. "If there are big spenders in a specific race for a legislative district--and there's usually only a few--the Clean Elections candidate has the ability to get matching funds.
"I considered all this and felt that $25,000 is reasonable when all the other candidates are in that range. There's no point in having an arms race."
A Clean Elections gubernatorial candidate could get $950,000 for the primary and general elections. That candidate could get triple that amount--$2.85 million--if a non-Clean Elections opponent raised that much from private sources. In 1994, J. Fife Symington III spent $2.9 million to get reelected; his general-election opponent, Eddie Basha, spent $2.3 million.
"I think it's going to need significant work to see that it tracks with the spirit of the initiative," Cummiskey says. "I would hope we wouldn't do too much until we have a couple of election cycles."
* Won't Proposition 200 add a new layer of bureaucracy?
It would, in fact, create the Clean Elections Commission, whose members would be nominated by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Elected officials from both parties would appoint the five-member panel from the lists of nominees.
Proposition 200 critic Jay Heiler, a former aide to governor J. Fife Symington III, believes the commission could become "a political battleground" and "a new repository for cynicism."
Arizona is one of only 10 states that lacks a commission or agency whose primary duty is to monitor campaigns.
Ruth Jones, the ASU professor, says, "I do think we have to have some independent commission to monitor elections. The secretary of state has thousands of things to do, and most states have regulatory agencies."
* Would Proposition 200 be constitutional?
Several foes have said that if voters approve it, they will challenge its constitutionality.
In a landmark 1976 case, Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that campaign donations are a form of free expression protected by the First Amendment.
"We're tinkering around with very fundamental American freedoms and traditions," Heiler warns.
Proposition 200's supporters say their law should withstand constitutional challenges because no candidate could be forced to participate in the Clean Elections program. It's strictly voluntary.
Gary Tredway speaks often of his bane: "Bigmoneyspecialinterests." His discourse is peppered with the term.
Tredway is a big reason Proposition 200 is on Tuesday's ballot. He doesn't boast about it. He'd rather not discuss his role. But if you ask him enough times, he'll tell you out of exasperation.
"I personally developed the major components of the initiative. It took hundreds of hours," he says. "Writing the initiative was hundreds of hours. Louis Hoffman, our attorney, did the actual writing."
Tredway is treasurer of Arizonans for Clean Elections, the group pushing the measure. He has donated more than $12,000 to the cause, circulated petitions at street fairs and outside post offices.
The 50-ish native of Cleveland, Ohio, came to Arizona in 1971. He does not have a college degree. He owns an aging "residence hotel" in southwest Scottsdale. From his cluttered office/residence there, he also runs his natural-foods mail-order business, Pure Planet. He's been a longtime member of Gentle Strength Co-op in Tempe, and currently serves as chairman of its board.
Tredway has been a contributor to The Current, a left-leaning bimonthly newsletter that rails for social justice and against corporate welfare. He's a registered member of the Green Party. He's always been politically active.
"I've worked on a lot of issues over the years, and it seems like even when you have a lot of public support, the bigmoneyspecialinterests can stop, stymie, defeat, a lot of popular programs," he says.
"There's a small minority of our population that controls a large proportion of wealth and power. It seems like our country and government is essentially being bought and paid for by the highest bidder. A lot of us got to the point where we thought we had to restore democracy before it was totally bought away from us."
Tredway recognizes the irony inherent in his high-dollar campaign to take money out of politics. But he says unlike lobbyists who fund candidates, people contributing to Proposition 200 have nothing to gain except good government.
Arizonans for Clean Elections' president is Lila Schwartz, who also serves as president of the Arizona League of Women Voters.
Schwartz lives in Sun City West with her husband, Manny. They met when both worked at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo--she in the State Department's political office--during the early Fifties. When they returned to the States, she got active in the League of Women Voters, and has been involved since.
She taught political science at Detroit University and once ran for county commissioner. She chuckles remembering how her grandchildren passed out her campaign literature within the forbidden zone near a polling place. She lost.
Like Tredway, she's been working on Proposition 200 for two years.
"It really was not a deliberate effort in the beginning," she says. "There were a number of groups that were involved, and we were trying to convince the Legislature to pass a ban on gifts from lobbyists. We failed. Then we began to talk about how we could stop nibbling about the edges and bring about a more holistic approach to the problem."
"We had very, very few people who turned us down for signatures. I could fill six petitions in two hours, no problem," she says. "I don't know that it was a conservative versus a liberal issue out here. I think that conservatives are just as interested as liberals in good government."
While there undoubtedly is impressive grassroots support for Proposition 200--nearly 200,000 signatures attest to that--it is also clear that influences from outside Arizona have played critical roles, both in terms of financing and organization.
Arizona has supplied by far the most donors to the Clean Elections campaign, but far from the most money.
Records filed with the state show that as of October 13, Arizonans had contributed only $110,448 of the $754,059 collected by the campaign, roughly 15 percent. (A subsequent filing put the Clean Elections war chest at $805,924.)
The largest contributor is the Public Campaign Action Fund of Washington, D.C., which has channeled a truly stunning sum--$335,000--to the Arizona campaign.
Public Campaign is a reform group founded last year by Ellen S. Miller, who for 13 years directed the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics. The nonpartisan CRP had reduced the analysis of campaign finance to a science, but Miller says she became convinced that Congress would never act to reform the system.
She stopped being a watchdog and became an attack dog.
"I decided to create Public Campaign as a response to grassroots activists everywhere who had likewise awakened to the problem of money in politics," Miller says.
Armed with $9 million in seed money from foundations and individuals, she began to take her message to the states, including Arizona.
Miller explains, "When people can do more comprehensive reform on the state level, that's the place to move."
Tredway says it was a Miller speech in Arizona that got the ball rolling here. It would have been "very difficult" to get Proposition 200 on the ballot without the help of Miller and Public Campaign, he says. Schwartz concurs.
Kaia Lenhart, the political director of Arizonans for Clean Elections, is a Public Campaign employee.
And aside from its direct and massive donations to the Arizona effort, it's evident that Public Campaign has been instrumental in finding other contributors to Proposition 200.
Organizations from Massachusetts have been particularly generous: The Proteus Fund of Amherst, a group expressly formed to promote state-by-state campaign reform, has donated $135,000; the Peace Development Fund, also of Amherst ($50,000); the Institute for Civil Society of Newton ($17,000).
New York has been munificent as well. PBS documentarian Bill Moyers was the guest of honor at one New York fund raiser for the Arizona initiative. The Salidago Foundation of New York has contributed $20,000, while George Soros, the billionaire creator of the Quantum Fund investment group, has donated $100,000.
Soros is no stranger to Arizona politics. In 1996, he was responsible for stuffing $430,000 into the campaign coffers of the group pushing Arizona's marijuana medicalization initiative. State voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure, which the Legislature promptly gutted. Tuesday's ballot has a gnarl of propositions spawned by the Legislature's action, and Soros has dumped $183,000 into that campaign.
Soros, 68, a Hungarian-born Jew, managed to evade the Nazis during World War II and after the war immigrated to England, where he attended the London School of Economics. He moved to the United States in 1956 and began building his fortune, much of it in currency trading. The London Guardian says Soros' money "doesn't talk, it shouts." A $1,000 investment in his Quantum Fund in 1969 is worth $500,000 today.
Soros' philanthropic politicking began in earnest when he founded the Open Society Fund in 1979. Today he bankrolls a network of foundations that operate dozens of countries, especially in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. A biography says these organizations are "dedicated to building and maintaining the institutions and infrastructure of an open society." He has funneled nearly $1.5 billion into these causes in the past four years alone.
Soros declined to be interviewed for this story, but when the Washington Post asked him last week why he was funding political campaigns in Arizona, Soros replied: "I live in one place, but I consider myself a citizen of the world. I have foundations in 30 countries, and I believe certain universal principles apply everywhere--including Arizona."
Soros is deeply committed to campaign-finance reform; he was one of four founding funders of Public Campaign.
Arizona groups contributing to Arizonans for Clean Elections were Arizona Common Cause ($10,000) and the Arizona Education Association's Education Improvement Fund ($5,000).
Individual donors of note include Nadine Mathis, wife of Eddie Basha ($3,000); Dr. Robin Silver ($1,150); attorney Dan Cracchiolo ($500); former Phoenix mayor Terry Goddard ($100); former congressman James McNulty ($100); former Maricopa County supervisor Ed Korrick ($100); Susan Goldwater, widow of Barry ($100); and former governor Rose Mofford, who appears in pro-200 TV ads ($50).
A significant portion of the Proposition 200 nest egg was spent gathering signatures to get the measure to the ballot; Lee Petitions of Phoenix was paid more than $140,000.
"Yes, we paid for a lot of signatures, but we had lots of volunteers that went out, too," Tredway says. "Every initiative pays for signatures; I don't know of any that don't. Arizona requires so many signatures compared to other states."
This year, signatures of 115,000 registered voters were required to get an initiative on the ballot.
Not so very long ago, Arizona was a gallery where conservative dogma might pose as statute.
In 1995, then-governor J. Fife Symington III gave a speech to a prominent right-wing think tank. He suggested the brethren consider Arizona as an ideological proving ground. The speech was titled "Arizona As a Laboratory for Change."
A few of the lab experiments blew up. Others mutated. Remember the private property "takings" initiative of 1994? It failed. The push for school vouchers? We got a passel of charter schools instead. The "Polluter Protection Act," so onerous that even Symington couldn't help but veto it? (Expect it to return in 1999.) The Constitutional Defense Council? The crusade to make Arizona a safe haven for Freon?
The pendulum seems to have swung. Bill Clinton carried the state in 1996, the first Democrat to do so since Harry Truman. Then there's the aforementioned vote to approve marijuana as medicine, also okayed in 1996.
Tuesday, Arizona could become the third state--behind Maine and Vermont--to embrace the so-called Clean Elections concept.
Maine voters enacted their program in 1996, with 54 percent approving. Public funding of campaigns will not begin there until the year 2000, but that hasn't stopped a national pro-life political action committee and the American Civil Liberties Union from suing to undo the initiative. A judge ruled that because nobody could have been harmed yet by the new law, it was too soon to litigate. The lawsuits will likely be refiled next year.
Vermont's program was approved by its legislature last year.
Massachusetts voters will join Arizonans in considering a Clean Elections initiative on Tuesday. The state's congressional delegation has unanimously endorsed the measure, Question 2.
The nation's press awaits the outcome of the Arizona and Massachusetts votes.
On October 19, the New York Times published a front-page story titled "2 States Consider Boldly Revamping Campaign Finance." The newspaper followed up the next day with an editorial under the head "A Grass-Roots Message on Reform." The Times opined:
"In the weeks since campaign finance reform was killed in Washington, it has been fashionable to say that the issue never had much popular support. But that cynical view is belied by the momentum behind two important initiatives this fall, in Massachusetts and Arizona, where voters are being asked to create publicly financed campaign systems that would free politicians of their dependence on money from special interests. Approval for these measures would provide a model for how to clean up local political races and send a strong signal to Washington to enact reform legislation next year."
USA Today weighed in editorially on October 22, saying, "Polls show strong support in both states, even though they're political opposites--Arizona staunchly conservative; Massachusetts resolutely liberal. What they have in common, with each other and with the rest of the country, is a history of money corrupting the political process."
Ruth Jones, the ASU political science professor and a supporter of Proposition 200 (she donated $100), is not surprised by fascination with the Arizona election.
"I think that the people who care about campaign finance--and that's both the people who favor and oppose Proposition 200--are going to watch this carefully," Jones says. "If Maine's program works, if Vermont's program works, and if Arizona passes this, then there will be a lot of movement in other states."
Movement in Missouri was interrupted by an aggressive business lobby. The Missouri reformers needed 72,000 signatures, and spent $200,000 to gather 115,000. But organizers were able to raise only $250,000 of the $1.5 million they believed they would need to offset an opposing coalition.
The Missouri Clean Elections committee decided not to put the question on the ballot this year, but to retrench, raise more money, collect signatures again and put the measure on the 2000 ballot.
Kaia Lenhart worked on the Missouri campaign before coming to Arizona to organize for Proposition 200.
"We didn't have a real deep grassroots base or a donor base to support the kind of campaign that we knew we'd have to run to get our message out," she says of the Missouri effort. "It was very difficult to stop the campaign, but it was also very pragmatic of that group. . . . Reason outweighed emotion at that point, and it was the right decision."
Lenhart likens the Clean Elections movement to such social struggles as women's suffrage and the civil rights movement.
"Those took years to make changes," she says. "Our committee in Missouri is already having planning meetings for 2000."
They should plan well.
Told that the Missouri group had put off its campaign initiative for two years, an official of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce seems almost disappointed. "We were ready to go to war on this one," he says.
In Arizona, the opponents of Proposition 200 are fighting a guerrilla war.
When the measure was certified for the ballot in August, Republican activist Dorothy Dean "Deedee" Meyers sued, claiming the initiative should be stricken because it lacked a proper name when its petitions were circulated. The legal challenge failed. Tom Patterson says he and former governor Symington helped raise $10,000 to pay for the lawsuit.
Even those who abhor Proposition 200 express grudging admiration for the way Arizonans for Clean Elections has framed its effort.
"This sounds wonderful--save the babies and clean elections," says Jon Hinz, spokesman for the anti-200 campaign group, Not With the People's Money--No on Proposition 200. "I've got to give them credit. They went out and grabbed a good name, and they did a good job of making people gun-shy."
It was October before lawmakers and lobbyists began murmuring that voters might actually dismantle the campaign-finance system.
When the Arizona Republic's editorialists wanted to hear arguments over Proposition 200, they didn't know whom to call to speak against it. So they summoned former Symington aide Jay Heiler, who is now a political consultant. Heiler believes Arizonans for Clean Elections is misleading voters.
"They call it the Clean Elections initiative," Heiler says. "They barely ever get around to pointing out that this is public financing of political campaigns. . . . If you're going to take a measure like this to the voters in an initiative, you take it to them straight."
Hinz credits Republican state Representative Mike Gardner with stimulating the opposition effort.
"Mike Gardner was the first one to run out of the house, saying, 'Fire! Fire!'" Hinz says.
In an October 6 interview, Gardner called Proposition 200 "bad public policy. . . . If you're pro-choice, would you want your dollars going to pro-life candidates? It's basically welfare for politicians. It's a handout."
He said the current campaign finance rules--state voters in 1986 imposed strict limits on the sums candidates can get from individuals and organizations--work well.
"This is the way our forefathers envisioned our country, not tax dollars going out to the politicians," Gardner says. "For citizens to run and be viable candidates, they need to go out and raise the money from the people who believe in their issues."
Two days later, Gardner was still decrying the measure, but he didn't want to be seen as a leader of the opposition.
"I don't know who told you I was leading this, because I'm not," Gardner said. "I'm an interested bystander."
Hinz, who is a registered lobbyist and director of a group known as Fairness and Accountability in Insurance Reform, has emerged as spokesman for the opposition.
FAIR is affiliated with the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, and Hinz, who has a daughter with a disability, works to prevent the Legislature from enacting the kind of tort reforms favored by the insurance industry. Virtually all of FAIR's funding comes from lawyers.
Hinz believes the current campaign finance rules serve the public well.
"Historically, we've always been able to follow the money, and if you do that, you can figure out who's supporting the candidates," he says. ". . . [Proposition 200] is going to create the worst kind of stealth candidates, in my opinion."
Patterson, who is not seeking another term in the state Senate, says voters will reject Proposition 200 if they believe their tax dollars are going to political candidates.
"Whether you do or don't think that special interests control the Legislature," he says, "you need to know that the solution that's proposed boils down to government taking over elections and taxpayers funding them."
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Fire Fighters Association and the Farm Bureau Federation are among the groups opposing Proposition 200. Politicians who have spoken against it include secretary of state candidate Art Hamilton, a Democrat who worries that lawmakers in poor districts won't be able to raise $5 contributions from 200 people. Governor Jane Hull is opposed.
Although both sides claim Attorney General Grant Woods is in their camp, a spokeswoman for Woods says he has taken no position. Neither, apparently, has U.S. Senator John McCain, a national campaign-finance-reform crusader. His office did not respond to inquiries. But McCain was quoted recently as saying that Republicans will never agree to public financing of campaigns.
Hinz and Janice Goldstein of the Trial Lawyers Association say they are speaking out against Proposition 200 as individuals, not as representatives of the Trial Lawyers. But both say funds to mount a counterattack are not plentiful.
"Some people gave great advice for TV commercials and didn't put up any money," Goldstein says with a laugh.
Hinz says that by October 26, the opponents had managed to raise more than $20,000 to pay for anti-200 radio ads. He says the group decided not to accept money from tobacco companies or from out of state. Contributing $5,000 each were former state Republican party chair Dodie London, Del Webb Corporation, and the Issues Mobilization Fund (Paine Webber). FAIR and the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association chipped in $1,000 apiece, while Goldstein and fellow lobbyist Kevin DeMenna put up $500 each. Also giving $500 were Harry Cavanaugh and the Mobile Home Association. Hinz himself contributed $100.
FAIR's donation raised eyebrows among members of the Trial Lawyers Association, which has taken no position on Proposition 200. Hinz says FAIR has a six-member board, and that two officers--Ken Clancy and Marty Solomon, who is also president of the Trial Lawyers Association--authorized the FAIR contribution over the phone. The money went toward research into Proposition 200, Hinz says. Neither Clancy nor Solomon responded to requests for interviews.
"I'm concerned if FAIR money has been used in that effort," says Michael Valder, a Trial Lawyers Association member who has contributed to FAIR and Arizonans for Clean Elections.
By law, people raising money for campaigns must form a committee and register with the secretary of state. When Not With the People's Money filed its papers on October 16, Crystal Flot of Mesa was listed as committee chair. When she spoke to New Times on October 19, she still had not read Proposition 200.
"I was supposed to be given a copy of it, but they haven't given me one yet," says Flot, a housewife and mother of three. "I was kind of told the general meaning of it."
Flot said she was recruited to chair the committee by Judith Connell, a former pro-life activist who now is registered as a lobbyist for the Trial Lawyers, among others.
"She told me briefly about it [Proposition 200], and I said, 'It doesn't sound good to me.' And she asked me if I wanted to get involved, and I said, 'Sure.'"
Flot said she would get a copy of the ballot measure as soon as possible, concluding, "I want to know what I'm standing for, exactly."
Are electoral politics in Arizona so corrupted by campaign cash that sweeping reforms are necessary?
Jay Heiler doesn't think so. "I think what really leads to all this [Proposition 200] is the first assumption of reform advocates--that most or all of what ails our politics is rooted in the campaign finance system. I reject that premise," Heiler says. "That's not to say that the current system is perfect. I can say that I have never gotten the idea that our campaign finance system was driving the public policy choices of our officials."
Tom Patterson echoes that sentiment, saying, "The local media would have you believe there's a sinister lobbyist influence that overwhelms the Legislature. It's basically a myth and misconception, and it's a very popular myth."
Proposition 200 backers don't cite specific examples of quid pro quo--cases in which campaign contributions can be linked to specific legislation. They do cite a column written this summer by an official of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce that boasts that business interests were handed $90 million in tax breaks during the 1998 legislative session.
"It's basically a systemic problem, not a quid pro quo," Gary Tredway says. "We're claiming the whole finance system makes the Legislature dependent on these big-money interests. Legislators have to produce for the people who gave them money last time, so they can get money the next time."
"I don't know that you can give a quid pro quo," agrees Arizonans for Clean Elections chief Lila Schwartz. "You'd have to look at their voting record and where they get their campaign contributions, and put two and two together. You can draw inferences from that."
Senator Chris Cummiskey also hesitates to cite specific bills that might have been influenced by campaign cash. Cummiskey nonetheless agrees that lobbyists and special interests have "close to a monopoly on campaigns and elections" in Arizona.
"If you spend one afternoon at the Senate Finance Committee, you'll see that bills that typically are calendared are a litany of tax breaks for specific industries out there," Cummiskey says. "There are scores of bills like that. They add up. Each might have a price tag of $3 to $5 million."
Last year, New Times wrote of a bill introduced by Senator Russell Bowers, a Mesa Republican, that would have exempted one dry-cleaning business from having to pay millions to clean up polluted property. The company's owner and lawyer both had contributed to Bowers' campaign.
State Senate president Brenda Burns--a Republican whose campaign war chest exceeds $80,000 despite the fact that she had no primary election opposition, and her opponent in the general was a write-in candidate in the primary--made headlines recently after she circulated a memo that allegedly warned lobbyists not to contribute to the campaigns of Democrats. The Attorney General's Office determined that no laws were broken.
Arizona Citizen Action conducted computer analyses of campaign giving in Arizona and concluded that in 1996, large contributors (givers of more than $100) made up 84 percent of the nearly $6 million that candidates raised. Citizen Action ran those numbers again this year (before the primary election), and reported that 93 percent of the already $6 million raised had come from large contributors.
The group analyzed the addresses of donors and determined that people living in the 10 wealthiest zip codes in Arizona--nine of them are in Paradise Valley and environs--accounted for 45 percent of all giving so far in 1998.
Lawyers and lobbyists account for the greatest share of such giving, according to Citizen Action, chipping in $561,000 in all of 1996 and $767,000 before the primary election in 1998. Donors from the financial, insurance and real estate industry were a close second both years, followed by the health-care industry.
Another watchdog group, Arizona Common Cause, examined 1998 contributions to legislative candidates and determined that 75 percent of all contributions came from "lobby-oriented" givers--and that this was true for Republicans and Democrats alike. Non-incumbent Republicans got about 60 percent of their funding from lobby-oriented givers, the group said, while for non-incumbent Democrats the figure was 45 percent.
"If you want to run for the Legislature, you go down and meet with the lobbyists," says Jim Driscoll, director of Citizen Action. "If they like what you say, they raise money and they go on your campaign committee. If you win, they go in and take advantage of that level of access that they've earned.
"There are literally hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate subsidies that have gone out over the last few years. It's generally acknowledged that the best investment a corporation can make is a campaign contribution, because you can get returns of hundreds or thousands to one."
Proposition 200 is also designed to encourage more candidates to seek office.
There are 90 seats in the Legislature--30 in the Senate, 60 in the House. Thirty-one of those seats are uncontested on Tuesday's general-election ballot. And of the 171 candidates who appeared on the primary ballot, a whopping 110 (64 percent) had no primary opposition--they got free rides to the general-election ballot.
In 1996, 14 of 30 senators faced no opposition in the general election.
In the past 15 state House elections, incumbents have won 90.4 percent of the time. The figure is lower--86.28 percent--in state Senate races since 1968. But the figure has dipped below 90 percent in only two elections since 1980.
Chuck Huggins, secretary-treasurer of the Arizona AFL-CIO, says his group supports Proposition 200 primarily because it will encourage more people to seek office.
Ruth Jones of ASU says that if Proposition 200 passes, "I think you'll probably get more candidates running in relatively competitive elections. There will be more competition, and from where I sit, that would be a good thing."
It's an October 5 fund raiser at the Wrigley Mansion Conference Center to benefit Proposition 200. Rabble-rousing newspaper columnist Molly Ivins is regaling the crowd with Texas-flavored witticisms and a robust condemnation of campaign finance as we know it.
She says Proposition 200 is a leading wave in a reform tide that will sweep the nation and wash away tainted campaign cash and its residue: "Government of the corporate special interests, by the corporate special interests and for the corporate special interests."
It's a crucial movement that's not getting the attention it deserves, Ivins says.
"What you're doing is more important than Bill Clinton's dick," she drawls.
The pro-200 troops burst into applause.
Ivins is succeeded onstage by Jim Driscoll, director of Arizona Citizen Action, and also a founding member of the Proposition 200 steering committee.
Patrons have already paid up to $150 to attend, but Driscoll wants more.
"We can't lose this tremendous opportunity," Driscoll says, almost apologetically. "It's going to be very close if we don't get some more money."
Who is willing to give $1,000?
The irony is so palpable, people actually recoil. There are no takers.
Driscoll presses on. C'mon, now. An anonymous benefactor (Gary Tredway, it turns out) has offered to match every dollar pledged tonight. How about $500?
Pregnant pause. Finally, Robin Silver raises his hand.
As dollar amounts descend, more pledges trickle in. But Driscoll is still scuffling. When the figure gets to $100, Ivins, the guest of honor, chips in, no doubt out of sympathy for Driscoll.
"It's awful," Driscoll says, "that we have to raise money to get money out of politics."
And into Jim Driscoll's pocket.
Records on file at the secretary of state's office indicate that Driscoll, in his role as a fund raiser for Arizonans for Clean Elections, has been paid $22,471.
Driscoll says professional fund raising was essential to the campaign, and that during the time he was being compensated, "I stepped down from the steering committee and worked as a paid worker."
Kaia Lenhart says Driscoll resigned from the steering committee "in January or February" when he began his paid fund-raising efforts.
"Jim Driscoll has put a lot of time in over the years, in working to find the solution to money in politics," Lenhart says in a phone interview. "Quite frankly, I think it's unfair to single him out."
Lenhart might have used the occasion to hammer home a point she has preached since arriving in Arizona this summer to run the Proposition 200 campaign: that under the current system, there may be no such thing as a clean election.
Contact Jeremy Voas at his online address: email@example.com
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.