Our cover story this last week told you about the unexpected consequences of Arizona's Clean Elections experiment: a more polarized legislature, a fair amount of gratuitious spending, and dirty tricks aplenty.
But one of our sources recently pointed us toward an interesting phenomena potentially related to Clean Elections -- one that we never thought to connect.
We're talking about increased spending by lobbyists.
As the Arizona Capitol Times reported in its March 27 issue, spending reported by lobbyists doubled in Arizona from 1997 to 2007. That period of time neatly matches the period just before Arizona voters approved public financing for elections through its implementation in year 2000 until today.
You need a subscription to access the article, even online, but here's some highlights:
Reporter Jeremy Duda found that lobbyists for public bodies, like cities and counties, reported spending $1.8 million in 1997. Today, that sum has grown to $3.6 million annually.
For lobbyists representing the private sector, the number has grown from $394,000 in 1997 to $1.4 million today, according to Duda.
Lobbyists aren't permitted to buy legislators gifts worth more than $10 or give them tickets for things like sporting events, but they may buy meals.
Our question -- which Duda doesn't explore in his fine story -- is whether lobbyists are paying for more meals since they're no longer being tapped so frequently for campaign finance contributions in the age of public financing for campaigns. After all, there's important business going on at the Capitol, and lobbyists need to get their foot in the door. If they can't write a check for the cost of a campaign, well, there's always lunch at Durant's.
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You can hardly blame them, if so. Yet it would certainly point to another flaw in the Clean Elections system: Far from removing the role of money in elections, a system like Clean Elections may merely shift it to a different avenue. Even though we the people are paying for elections, the lobbyists keep their power by increasing other perks.
Duda's story quotes State Representative Ed Ableser, who'd like to hold lobbyists to $25 or less for lawmaker meals. Ableser tells Duda, "I don't buy it that inflation is increasing or that more clients are actually getting into the system. I think it's the fact that more people have to spend more money to protect their self interest."
Pretty honest quotation, don't you think?