Clean Elections Law Spawning a Muddy Mess

Posted on September 06, 2002 | Type: In the News
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Our Opinion

It is ironic that Arizona's Clean Elections law has been responsible - directly and indirectly - for a good deal of dirt slung in the primary election campaign.

When voters approved the law four years ago, Clean Elections was touted as a revolutionary idea that would remove the power that large-money donors supposedly held over those elected to state offices.

We didn't like the idea when it was first presented to voters and we like it even less now. Clean Elections must either undergo a thorough scrubbing or - and this is preferable - it should be junked by voters.

Matt Salmon, the apparent front-runner in the Republican gubernatorial race, has been aggrieved by Clean Elections more than any candidate - and he's not a participant in the voluntary "clean" program.

Although he has raised all of his money privately, Salmon has substantial obligations imposed on him by Clean Elections. At specific dates and fundraising levels, Salmon must file copious reports so his publicly funded opponents can receive a matching amount of "clean" cash.

Last week, Clean Elections officials said Salmon had failed to file timely reports on more than $484,000 in campaign spending. A few days later, the officials apologized, saying they had made a $337,000 mistake. Salmon actually was late reporting "only" $148,000 in spending, they said, characterizing Salmon's actions as an "error."

This week, they again reversed course, accusing Salmon of violating campaign finance laws.

Salmon is being raked over the coals because the law is hazy. It is not clear if candidates must report spending when an expense is incurred or later, when the bill is submitted and paid.

Salmon is not the only candidate who has been pilloried by the Clean Elections Commission. At least 10 others have either run afoul of some aspect of the law or been accused of doing so.

The complex Clean Elections rules have been used to political advantage by several candidates who have leveled accusations or triggered investigations of foes.

As Robert Franciosi of the Goldwater Institute pointed out on these pages yesterday, a law that was intended to make running for office more accessible has instead made campaigning a regulatory nightmare.

And none of this touches on our original objection to Clean Elections: Public money should not be used to fund political campaigns.

The Clean Elections program already is on life support. In June, the state Court of Appeals said that it is an unconstitutional violation of the right to free speech to fund campaigns with 10 percent surcharges on criminal and civil fines. The surcharges account for 65 percent of the Clean Elections money.

The state Supreme Court will decide the matter, probably later this year.

Clean Elections was badly conceived and unclearly written. Now it is being poorly interpreted and unevenly enforced. It's time to start moves to kill it for good.

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