By Sam Wercinski
The Republic | azcentral.com
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.