“I really don’t like the idea of someone getting a traffic ticket or jaywalking ticket and having to set up a payment plan in order to finance somebody’s election,” William Nelson, a Navy veteran, said Monday night. “That sounds pretty rotten.”
This was one reaction to a proposal to publicly finance elections in hopes of eliminating government corruption, but Tempe residents who spoke out at a public meeting were split over whether the proposal is a good idea.
Under the plan, modeled after Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Act, candidates for city council would be able to dip into a pot of public money to cover campaign costs. In exchange, they would, among other things, pledge not to accept donations from PACs or corporations and collect a specified number of $5 donations from community members.
To support the measure, Tempe is considering adding a $5 fee to every ticket it issues, including traffic violations. This would raise the cost of a typical speeding ticket to nearly $250.
Supporters, including Tempe council members David Schapira and Lauren Kuby, argued that the fund would prevent wealthy donors from buying political influence. It also would level the playing field so less-connected newcomers could afford to challenge incumbents.
Several community members noted that the plan would make the elections more about “ideas” than fundraising prowess, and they praised the provision requiring candidates to raise small donations from the community in order to unlock funds.
“The need for this policy is greater all the time,” said longtime Tempe resident Marie Provine. “We need leaders who are indebted to the people not indebted to developers.”
State Representative Juan Mendez (D-Tempe), who relied on the state’s clean-elections system to pay for his campaign, said publicly financing elections “will save us a lot of money.
“We won’t have to be giving kickbacks,” he said, suggesting that special-interest groups with deep pockets may be blocking Tempe from seeking policies that could benefit the public, such as mandating paid sick leave.
Critics, however, argued that because candidates can choose whether to use the public fund or to raise money on their own, the plan actually wouldn’t clean up anything.
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“Money isn’t clean or dirty until you start behaving in a certain way,” said Chris Anaradian, who works in development. “This money is public money — money that you [elected officials] could be spending to improve the quality of life for everyone in this room, not funding your desire to be an elected official.”
A number of people, like William Nelson, also took issue with the city’s proposal to pay for the program, arguing that it unfairly targets low-income and minority residents, who are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.
Nelson also expressed concern that city officials would feel pressure to hand out a certain number of tickets because they need to meet revenue goals:
“I don’t want a candidate thinking, God, if we cut the tickets in half, how am I going to win my election?”