Andrea Woodmansee

'Clean Elections' are an Upside-Down Fairy Tale

Posted on February 24, 2003 | Type: Op-Ed | Author: Andrea Woodmansee
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My Turn

At its Presidents' Day rally, the Clean Elections Institute celebrated the legislation that it claims has worked like a charm, fulfilling fairy tale dreams about ridding politics of "big money" and special interests.

In reality, clean elections is an upside-down fairy tale, where Robin Hood steals the people's cash to line the princes' pockets.

Clean elections does nothing to shut the door on deep-pocketed special interests. It's no secret that labor unions mined their member lists to come up with the 4,000 $5 contributions Janet Napolitano needed to be eligible for clean elections money. Never mind the corporations and private donors that bankrolled Gov. Napolitano's inaugural festivities. As a clean elections candidate, she's not required to disclose her special interest contributors, whereas names of donors to private campaigns are public record.

Clean elections is sold as a way to make elections free and fair. It is neither. The system requires some citizens to finance political campaigns they do not support, infringing on the freedom of speech. Because political contributions express political convictions, contributions are properly considered "speech," as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted.

The only thing free about clean elections is the money that goes to politicians.

And what about fairness? If the definition of fair is handing out public money to clean elections candidates while imposing onerous regulations on privately financed candidates, then, yes, it's fair.

Clean elections shifts the fund-raising burden to candidates who would rather earn their money than rely on the public dole. Under this system, candidates receive dollar-for-dollar funds to match what their opponents raise. The kicker is that privately financed candidates have to sink funds back into taxes and fund-raising efforts, which means that clean elections candidates have about 25 percent more campaigning cash.

But here's the bottom line: A review of legislative voting records reveals no difference in the voting patterns of publicly funded legislators vs. privately funded legislators. So we're left with a system that limits free speech, unfairly favors certain candidates, keeps powerful special interests in the game and drains funds from state priorities.

Supporters of clean elections argue that despite these problems, clean elections was voter-approved and should therefore be sustained. However, according to the Clean Elections Institute's own polling, only 8 percent of voters knew the measure would send public money to politicians.

Thankfully, U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, a Republican, is leading the charge to send clean elections back to voters, so that Arizonans will have a chance to rid their state of this fraudulent system.

As if the clean elections mire weren't yet deep enough, Arizona Sen. John McCain, also a Republican, has made it his personal crusade to sink federal elections into the same kind of muck. His campaign finance legislation severely restricts free speech, especially in the 60 days before elections, when the freedom to express opinions is perhaps most crucial. His legislation also enshrines the power of special interests and keeps incumbents firmly in their seats.

McCain has bowed out of the perfect opportunity to defend his legislation to his Arizona constituents. Citing scheduling conflicts, his staff canceled his appearance at a debate Friday with Brad Smith, vice chairman of the Federal Elections Commission and ardent opponent of publicly financed campaigns. Smith now will be the keynote speaker at the Goldwater Institute event.

With so much ill-considered campaign finance law on the state and federal books, we are lucky to have leaders like Brad Smith and Jeff Flake who are willing to protect our freedoms, even at great personal cost. They are working toward fixing this upside-down fairy tale by giving us our money back and making politicians finance their own campaigns.

Andrea Woodmansee is projects coordinator for the Goldwater Institute based in Phoenix.

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