Arizona voters to decide fate of public campaign finance at state level - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Arizona voters to decide fate of public campaign finance at state level

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Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 10:55 am | Updated: 4:30 pm, Fri Jul 8, 2011.

Voters will decide next year whether to scrap public financing of elections for statewide and legislative office.

And they will get a chance to also outlaw a similar system that Tucson has had in place for more than two decades.

The proposal given final approval by the Senate on Monday, puts a measure on the 2012 general election ballot to add a provision to the Arizona Constitution making it illegal to collect or spend public funds to support candidates for public office. That same measure also would make it illegal for any government agency to raise revenues for candidate races through any tax, fee or surcharge.

In short, it would overrule a 1998 voter-approved program which allows -- but does not require -- candidates to get public dollars if they agree not to take private funds. Dubbed the “Citizens Clean Elections Act,’’ proponents billed it as an alternative to candidates being dependent on special interests to finance their races.

But voters won’t see the words “Clean Elections’’ when they go to the polls next year. Instead they will be asked to approve a measure that lawmakers, all foes of the current system, have dubbed the “Stop Public Money for Political Candidates’ Campaign Act.’’

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, accused those trying to kill the system of playing games.

“If you ask voters if they want to repeal Clean Elections, you will see overwhelming opposition to this bill,’’ he said.

Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, said lawmakers are trying to “confuse the voters’’ with the title of the measure.

Those pushing the change have all but conceded that they do not want a vote on “clean elections.’’ That is why they are seeking to kill public funding not by asking voters to repeal the 1998 law but instead by superseding it with a constitutional ban.

Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, said the name given to the system in 1998 is misleading.

“The fallacy is that if you fund your own campaign you’re somehow assumed to be dirty,’’ he said. Pierce also said there is nothing inherently “clean’’ about how people run for office just because the source of their cash is the public.

He also said the state’s current budget deficit makes it “totally inappropriate for anyone to run on state funds when that money could be used someplace else.’’ But the majority of the funds come from a 10 percent surcharge the 1998 law imposed on civil, criminal and traffic fines, money that would not otherwise be available.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said having to raise money from constituents instead of getting public dollars keeps her beholden to their needs.

As a constitutional ban on public funding, the referendum, if approved, also would wipe out the Tucson system.

The state plan gives those who qualify a set amount of money, prohibiting them from raising more.

By contrast, the Tucson plan says those who are eligible are entitled to receive a dollar-for-dollar match of all contributions up to a fixed limit for each office. Once they reach that limit they cannot raise additional private dollars.

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