The Underside of “Clean Elections”

August 22, 2008 by  

You’ve heard the radio ads reminding us how the so-called “clean elections” campaign funding system in Arizona works “for all of us”. Does it?

In some cases, candidates who choose not to fund their campaigns with taxpayers money can lose out bigtime! Consider a candidate running a traditionally-funded campaign against several challengers running “Clean”. If he raises more privately than his state-funded opponents, each of them not only receives the qualifying amount from the state, they receive the entire balance over and above that amount up to of what the privately-funded candidate raised. Even if he hasn’t spent the money. His opponents also receive a dollar for dollar match spent by an unaffliliated group on his behalf.

The legislature made several substantive improvements to the system this past session so that candidates could count on the rules being carried out equitably but the fairness of the matching funds provision of the system has never been challenged in court – until now. The Goldwater Institute, along with a number of Republican candidate plaintiffs, filed suit today. Even though Republicans have used the system to their advantage at least as often as Democrats, this aspect is one of the most troubling since there is so much opportunity for misapplication of the state’s money – or should I say, your money.

See article from G.I. on Why Conservatives Should Stop Playing with Fire and oppose the “Clean Elections” system

Goldwater Institute News Release
August 22, 2008

Phoenix–Today a diverse group of candidates filed a lawsuit challenging the matching funds provisions of Arizona’s Clean Elections Act. The suit contends the matching funds provisions violate the free speech and equal protection rights of candidates who do not participate in the taxpayer-subsidized campaign finance system. The candidates are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent matching funds from being distributed before the September primary.

“The matching funds provisions create an uneven playing field for candidates who don’t use public funds,” said Nick Dranias, the Goldwater Institute’s director of constitutional policy studies.

The candidates joining the lawsuit are Arizona State House Majority Whip John McComish, State Representative Nancy McLain, and legislative candidates Frank Antenori, Tony Bouie, Kevin Gibbons, and Doug Sposito. The Goldwater Institute filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court and anticipates adding additional plaintiffs, including Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor.

“Representative John McComish’s situation perfectly illustrates the system’s injustice,” said Dranias. Mr. McComish is in a primary contest against three subsidized candidates and contends the matching funds provisions provide vastly disproportionate support for his opponents. For every dollar that McComish spends promoting his campaign, one dollar goes to each of his opponents, allowing three dollars to be spent opposing McComish for every one dollar spent supporting him.

The suit aims to enforce the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court in Davis v. F.E.C. In June, the Supreme Court held that the goal of “leveling” electoral opportunities does not justify a campaign finance system in which “the vigorous exercise of the right to use personal funds to finance campaign speech produces fundraising advantages for opponents in the competitive context of electoral politics.”

The Clean Elections Act cannot stand under the Davis ruling because it “equalizes” contributions raised by privately-funded candidates by giving matching amounts of taxpayer money to candidates participating in the Clean Elections system. Davis ruled that such schemes restrict the freedom of speech of privately-funded candidates and their contributors.


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