Campaign Finance & Election
Campaigns should be open and free, not prone to manipulation through government financing schemes. And now the U.S. Supreme Court agrees.
As overtaxed Arizonans struggle to pay their bills, local governments are campaigning on the taxpayer’s dime. The latest incident comes from Apache County, which spent more than $7,000 of the public’s money advertising election bond issues in newspapers and on the radio.
In theory, Arizona law prohibits using public resources to influence elections. Cities, counties and school districts are allowed to inform voters about what is on the ballot; but they shouldn’t use public money to lobby for passage of ballot measures.
As the Supreme Court considered the Goldwater Institute’s appeal in McComish v. Bennett, the justices had to decide if the case raises any issues of nationwide importance. This week, the Court said the Goldwater Institute’s challenge to the use of matching funds in Arizona’s “Clean Elections” system meets that test. The Supreme Court accepted the appeal and will hear oral arguments sometime in the spring of 2011.
One of the most abusive assaults on Arizona sovereignty is one of the least-known: the inclusion of Arizona among a handful of states subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The Goldwater Institute has fought Arizona's "Clean Elections" system all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to ask one basic question: Can the state manipulate the political game to silence privately-financed candidates and drive them out of elections in favor of government-funded candidates?
When school districts borrow money by issuing bonds, they put taxpayers on the line to repay the funds. This is why Arizona law requires voters to decide whether the specific projects are worth the extra tax burden. But the legislature passed a new law in 2010 that carves out privileges for certain school boards to override the will of the voters. What results is an unconstitutional system that violates a contract between voters and school districts, and replaces voter approval with the preferences of school board members.
Although the language of the proposed initiative focuses almost entirely on primary elections, and the summary and title does so exclusively, in fact the proposed initiative makes profound changes to both primary and general elections. Arizona presently has what might be called a rectangular system of elections: a relatively open primary (independents may vote in Republican and Democratic primaries, and third parties may qualify to hold primary elections); and an open general election (qualified third parties and independents may appear on the ballot along with Republicans and Democrats).
The Fiesta Bowl investigation is exposing the fact that taxpayer funding for political candidates under Arizona’s Clean Elections system does not, in fact, keep politicians clean. Nearly half of the state legislators receiving allegedly illegal contributions and previously undisclosed junkets from the Fiesta Bowl ran for office with Clean Elections funds. Arizona’s campaign finance system has nothing to do with preventing the appearance of impropriety and everything to do with funneling taxpayer dollars to politicians.
The campaign this year is the first in four decades without a presidential or vice-presidential incumbent. It is a perfect opportunity for reflection on our national progress and for resetting our course as needed to assure future generations attain liberty and opportunity.
But the candidates have resolutely ignored any big-picture ideas, especially those which might involve hard choices or sacrifices. To listen to the debates, you would never guess that our country is on a financially unsustainable course that worsens every passing year.
Last week Senator Barack Obama announced that he will not take government money to support his presidential campaign. As he put it, the current system of financing drown[s] out the voices of the American people. Obama's choice will allow him to raise and spend as much as he can, letting his supporters be heard loud and clear this fall.
Is the ballot initiative process fundamentally at war with the foundation of American government? Unfortunately, the short answer is yes-unless the initiative process is reformed to limit government power.