Political Money Monitor: campaign finance reforms opposed, edited by David Almasi

This past election was the first in Arizona to be conducted under the Clean Elections Act. A ballot initiative passed in 1998, the Act provides public funding for candidates. Attorney Clint Bolick contends the new guidelines “proved to be anything but clean or divested of special interest pressures.”

Bolick wrote in the Weekly Standard that the Clean Elections Act “skews the political playing field sharply in favor of subsidized candidates.” Beneficiaries must only raise a token amount to qualify. Taxpayers are induced to transfer $5 of their tax payment to the Clean Elections fund to get a $5 tax rebate (“it bribes taxpayers to check the box, and each check-off costs the state $10”). Additional funds were raised through a $100 tax on for-profit lobbyists and a ten percent surcharge on civil and criminal fines. Publicly funded candidates are given set amounts, but are matched dollar-for-dollar if a challenger who is not receiving public funds raises more than that amount.

In the 2002 Arizona gubernatorial race, Bolick said the Clean Elections Act was integral in Democrat Janet Napolitano’s victory in a state with a three-to-two Republican advantage in voter registration. Republican Matt Salmon refused to accept public funding. Napolitano did, and was aided by labor unions in raising the 4,000 $5 donation necessary to qualify. Salmon faced two primary opponents who drained his campaign coffers and gave Napolitano time to launch negative attacks against him. Napolitano received an additional $200,000 to match an independent expenditure for Salmon by the state Republican Party, but a $700,000 negative campaign against Salmon by state Democrats did not count against Napolitano. In the end, Napolitano outspent Salmon by $1 million – and won by 11,819 votes.

Clean Election Act rules were criticized for their complexity, and campaigns misused their public funds. The Institute for Justice, which Bolick serves as vice president, challenged the lobbyist tax and fine surcharges as violations of the First Amendment’s protection from coerced political speech. The lobbyist tax was struck down, but the surcharge was upheld in the Arizona Supreme Court. It will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court early next year. Additionally, U.S. Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) says he will sponsor an initiative in 2004 to repeal the Clean Election Act altogether.

 



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