Editorial: Suit may garner answers

Posted on November 27, 2011 | Type: In the News
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Arizona Republic Editorial

Nothing against the practice of advertising your product, mind you -- institutionally speaking, we strongly endorse it -- but perhaps you too have wondered, as we have:

Why in the world is a public agency like the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission spending what looks like a healthy fortune on promoting itself in advertising?
 
Others are so curious they are filing suit.
 
Former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton, with the legal assistance of the conservative Goldwater Institute, claims the commission is illegally spending taxpayer dollars on self-promotion. Paton also takes strong issue with a long-held Clean Elections contention that its funding does not subtract from the state General Fund.
 
That last point is the heart of the matter: If Clean Elections spending does cost the General Fund, as Paton claims, that means at least part of the budget for those silly ads featuring walking front doors comes from taxpayer accounts that should be used for education and health care.
 
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission was established by voters in 1998 to provide public financing for qualifying candidates for political office in Arizona. State law requires the agency to spend a portion of its budget on "voter education." But the content of the advertising -- worth over $2 million this year, by one estimate -- appears more like self-promotion and electioneering than anything educational.
 
The government agency's bizarre "Closed Door Syndrome" television ad, featuring a residential front door with arms and legs, became an ubiquitous part of the Arizona election season, even though few candidates who might qualify for public campaign funds were on the ballot.
 
Paton's evidence includes an affidavit from the Arizona Department of Revenue stipulating that the complex system of tax credits benefiting Clean Elections in fact "reduces revenue to the general fund." According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, the net cost of Clean Elections to the General Fund in fiscal 2011 was $17 million.
 
In fairness, Clean Elections also has returned a total of $44.8 million in "excess funds" to the General Fund since 2000, so that may account for at least a portion of the net drain on the public's bank account. But does even that justify a self-promoting ad campaign?
 
So are all those obnoxious walking-door TV ads being produced on your dime? Paton's suit at least may answer some nagging questions about Clean Elections' curious spending habits.

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