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Donât let the courts dirty our elections

Illustration by Cody Angel
By Kendrick Wilson
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Wednesday July 17, 2002

Arizonans of the populist persuasion were dealt a horrible blow last month, when the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled our Clean Elections Act was using an illegal funding source to back candidates who meet strict guidelines to qualify for public funding. Fortunately, the Arizona Supreme Court will not make a decision until August on whether the Clean Elections funding source is unconstitutional, and is not likely to make a ruling that will affect this election cycle.

Though controversial, the act was passed by voters in 1998. Candidates who choose to run as Clean Elections candidates receive public funding for their campaigns, provided they severely limit their campaign contributions.

Despite what many well-financed, non-Clean Elections candidates would have one believe, the law provides public funding only if candidates collect a minimum number of signatures and five-dollar contributions from registered voters.

The fund only receives revenue from two other sources, but not non-consenting taxpayers.

Taxpayers in Arizona have the option of checking the ăClean Electionsä box on their state tax form. This sends five dollars of the taxes they have already paid to the Clean Elections Fund. Iâm sure a few boxes were checked by mistake, but for the most part, Arizonans didnât end up paying for political campaigns unless they chose to do so, provided they did not choose to break the law. A 10-percent surcharge is added to public fines, including traffic tickets, creating the third and final revenue source for the fund.

Under the current law, all law-abiding Arizonans can avoid contributing to the fund altogether if they prefer that their money not support Clean Elections candidates. But that fact wasnât good enough for State Rep. Steve May (R-Paradise Valley), who filed the lawsuit that threatens to completely undermine the law.

In order to file this lawsuit, May had to receive a parking fine, after he parked illegally outside a Coffee Plantation in Tempe. Now heâs claiming he wants his $2.70 (surcharge) back with interest. This is America! The next time I need to be reminded what America is all about, Iâll be sure to visit the county courthouse so the other law-breaking citizens ÷ provided I donât run into May paying another parking ticket ÷ can give me a dissertation on the First Amendment.

We all have our own visions of what America should be. I donât begrudge any corporate executives the right to adorn their Lincoln Navigators with bumper stickers, put signs at the entrances to their mansions or to knock on their neighborsâ doors soliciting votes. I do not, however, believe that donating gargantuan sums of money to political campaigns is speech. Under the act, people who had never considered themselves political donors were able to influence campaigns with a mere five dollars. Nothing was stopping developers and CEOs from doing the same, and many did.

Clean Elections candidates are bipartisan. In fact, six out of the seven likely candidates for governor are running as Clean Elections candidates ÷ two Republicans and four Democrats. Republican Matt Salmon is the only viable candidate who has chosen not to run as a Clean Elections candidate. Of course, it would be difficult for him to collect large contributions from the likes of big-time developers had he limited his contributions to five dollars each.

The money saved to taxpayers (actually public fine-payers, in this case) by continuing to finance political campaigns through big money would be remunerated 10 times over through subsidies designed to help the special interests that helped to elect our representatives. The act has also kept campaigns on the track of convincing voters through coffees, walking neighborhoods, and shaking hands with voters at community events. The days of 10-second TV ads ÷ which time has proven can relay nothing more than a couple of sound bytes to voters ÷ might have been over had the act had a chance to work.

Forgive me for believing it right to deny felons the right to vote, and to deny criminals on the misdemeanor level the right to exempt themselves from contributing to the fund. We have reached a sad day in Arizona when the will of the voters is overturned by law suits filed by monied special interests and state courts that are sympathetic to their less-than-forthright political practices.


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