When Arizona's Clean Elections Act was passed in 1998, proponents hoped it would mark the beginning of a new era in elections: one of improved voter turnout, increased candidate participation, and less special interest influence. But just how has the Clean Elections Act changed Arizona campaigns? This policy report finds Arizona's Clean Elections system has largely failed to live up to its stated goals.
Clean Elections was trumpeted as a means to improve citizen participation. However, since the law was passed in 1998, voter turnout has not improved. Likewise, Clean Elections promised to increase the number of candidates in each election and help reduce the incumbency reelection rate. A review of election cycles shows that since 1998, incumbency reelection rates have remained near 100 percent, and in the most recent primaries, the number of candidates fell substantially. In fact, from 2002 to 2004, the number of primary candidates for office fell from 247 to 195. Moreover, the law has not increased minor or third-party participation in politics, and Arizona campaigns remain every bit as hard-edged under Clean Elections as they were when traditionally funded.
Clean Elections comes at a cost. The state loses ten dollars every time a taxpayer marks the $5 tax check-off. Additionally, the program requires a confusing and frustrating regulatory regime that threatens constitutional liberties. The obligation to monitor abuse of public funds requires a level of invasive investigation that is simply not necessary in traditionally funded systems.
There is little evidence that the Clean Elections law has fulfilled its goals. Instead, it imposes real burdens on political speech and on the ability to run for office. This study concludes that Arizona's Clean Elections system may actually harm the political process while imposing significant costs on the public.