Clean Elections should be nearing the end

Some Republican lawmakers want to ask voters to repeal the Citizens Clean Elections system, but in a way that supporters contend is misleading.

The proposal by Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, seeks to effectively repeal a 1998 voter-approved law that allows candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public financing if they agree not to take private money. It is funded largely by a surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.

Boyer's plan would put a measure on the 2014 ballot asking voters to instead give that money, about $8.9 million a year, to education.

The idea is drawing opposition from supporters of the public funding system — and not just because of the idea of putting the question to voters. Louis Hoffman, a member of the Clean Elections commission, said it's the way Boyer is going about it.

He said it tries to put voters in the position of having to make “a false choice between puppies and flowers,” asking them to “take money from the popular Clean Elections program and use it for the worthy goal of improving education in this state which is woefully underfunded as a result of the Legislature.”

Boyer acknowledged funding for education took a hit in the last few years as lawmakers sought to cope with sharply reduced tax revenues, but he said legislators did everything they could to keep those cuts to a minimum.

In any event, Boyer said, voters deserve to make that choice.

“Say, hypothetically, we cut too much education funding,” he said.

“Why shouldn't we try and find more funding for it?” Boyer continued. “I mean, that's what I'm doing.”

Hoffman, however, said voters will see through what Boyer is trying to do.

“I do think that a lot of times the public resents what they perceive as legislative trickery,” he said. “They might well just simply vote down measures that have that kind of feel to them.”

Boyer, however, said it was supporters of the public financing scheme who deceived voters in the first place in choosing a name for the program.

“We all want clean air, clean water, clean schools,” he said.

“So, of course, we want clean elections,” Boyer continued. “But that's not turned out to be the case.”

Boyer managed to get an identical plan out of the House last session but it faltered in the Senate. He even lost the votes of some of his Republican colleagues who chided his methodology.

Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, said at that time if lawmakers want to scrap the system they should ask voters that exact question, and not force them to choose. She called the wording of the measure a page “out of the dirty playbook of sleazy political tricks.”

That alternative remains an option.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is separately proposing exactly that kind of outright repeal, without asking voters to instead redirect the funds. But his reasoning is similar to that of Boyer: He believes voters, after 16 years under the public financial plan, may have had enough.

Hoffman said the basic reason for public financing remains: It improves the chances of people being able to seek public office “without the appearance of corruption caused by campaign donations by interested parties.”

Mesnard, however, is unapologetic about wanting to remove the option of candidates being able to get campaign funds not by seeking private funds but simply by gathering a set number of $5 donations and agreeing not to take other donations.

“I think there's nothing like having to go out and garner support from a constituency, whatever constituency it is, and people can see who you're ‘beholden to,’ to run for office,” he said.

Mesnard stressed, though, that he will pursue his proposal only if he gets some assurances that foes of public financing — many of them in the business community — will provide the financial resources to wage the kind of public relations program to convince voters to kill the program.

“If you don't have a planned strategy when something gets referred to the ballot that you know is going to have opposition, then you're just asking for failure,” he said.

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