Bill would help citizens engage in voting process

By Sam Wercinski
The Republic |

Arizona Republic colum­nist Doug MacEachern shed light on how “ ‘Dark money’ in campaigns under­mines basic democracy,” be­cause of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (Viewpoints, Jan. 13). The five justices wiped out more than a hundred years of legal precedent in­tended to pro­tect govern­ment of, by and for the people, and put American de­mocracy up for sale to the high­est bidder.

Now Arizona House Bill 2306 is introduced.

It will double the amount of campaign cash that political ac­tion committees, driven by lob­byists, can give to candidates for greater leverage when they’re in office.

This bill sets the stage for re­moving all campaign-contribu­tion limits and undermines the Arizona Citizens Clean Elec­tions Act, which voters ap­proved in 1998.

Arizona has a history of spe­cial interests holding officials “hostage” for campaign fund­ing. Arizona’s first governor, George W.P. Hunt, said in 1914, “It will be a happy day for the nation when the corporations shall be excluded from political activity … and vast accumula­tions of capital cannot be em­ployed in an attempt to control government.”

Jump to 1991, when AzScam snared seven lawmakers taking bribes for votes.

The ongoing scandal around the Fiesta Bowl furthers the public perception that lobbyists run Arizona with “laundered” campaign cash, luxurious trips and freebies for state legisla­tors.

Former state Rep. Ben Arre­dondo’s recent sentencing for political corruption reminds us why Arizonans want stronger conflict-of-interest and cam­paign- finance laws, such as gift bans and the Clean Elections Act.

Voters approved the Clean Elections Act to rein in political cronyism.

Clean Elections candidates voluntarily agree to limit cam­paign spending and not accept private money in exchange for Clean Elections funding.

This requires them to focus on voters.

Participating candidates also face removal from office if they cheat, unlike their compet­itors who accept PAC and spe­cial- interest money.

If Attorney General Tom Horne had run using Clean Elections, he would likely be gone, removed by the indepen­dent Clean Elections Commis­sion given the Maricopa County attorney’s investigation, which found Horne violated cam­paign­finance laws. Of course, special interests don’t like Clean Elections be­cause they lose absolute control of who gets campaign cash.

Corporate interests have sued the Clean Elections Com­mission numerous times, weak­ening this anti-corruption law.

And yet nearly 30 percent of legislators and all of today’s five corporation commissioners ran as Clean Elections candidates.

Clearly, the system provides an alternative to candidates who want to avoid the corrupt­ing nature of special-interest money.

Circle back to HB 2306. In­stead of doubling the campaign cash that lobbyists use to influ­ence elected officials, we rec­ommend a more comprehen­sive approach, like the Voter In­volvement Program bill being proposed by the Clean Elections Commission.

The VIP bill supports the vot­ers’ desire for more indepen­dent officials accountable to voters.

Using Clean Elections Cred­its, voters decide which partici­pating candidates deserve more Clean Elections funding, increasing civic engagement and requiring candidates to fo­cus on the voters, not the do­nors.

The VIP system also relies on the existing Clean Elections Fund, established by voters, without costing taxpayers a penny.

And at the same time, the bill provides for expanding tradi­tional campaign-contribution limits.

Despite dark money, a strong democracy can thrive with en­gaged citizens. We believe the Voter Involvement Program will move Arizona in that direc­tion.

Please ask your legislators to support the Voter Involvement Program. Learn more about Clean Elections at AZadvocacy .org.

Sam Wercinski is executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network and AZAN Foundation.

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