The on-again, off-again investigation to determine if gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon was late in reporting expenses that trigger public matching funds to his primary election foes revolves around the following question:
"Does a candidate not taking public money have to report an expense when it is actually incurred or when he pays the tab? In other words, does the candidate report the cost of printing a campaign leaflet when the bill is paid or when the order is placed?
The controversy began Aug. 30, when the Clean Elections Commission accused Salmon's campaign of filing a disclosure statement containing nearly a half-million dollars in expenditures that should have been reported earlier.
The next day the commission announced it blundered badly, leading many in the Salmon camp and many in the news media to conclude the campaign had been exonerated of all wrongdoing. However, rather than questioning $484,638 in alleged late filings, the commission voted Wednesday to look into $147,511 in expenditures.
Salmon's campaign blasted the commission action as unjustified and suspicious.
The decision "fundamentally undermines the credibility of this commission," said Lisa Hauser, an attorney for the Salmon campaign. "It's almost laughable even if it wasn't so downright sad."
Commission Executive Director Colleen Connor said the investigation centers on the belief Salmon did not report expenses when purchases were made, but after checks were cut for the purchases. She said the timing delayed commission payments of matching funds to his primary election foes.
Salmon's spending as a privately funded candidate has triggered more than $600,000 in matching funds to Betsey Bayless and Carol Springer, who would have received just $409,950 from the commission if not for Salmon's private fund raising.
Salmon is not taking public money to pay for his campaign.
While Connor maintains state law requires candidates to report expenses when they are incurred, not merely when they are paid, the Salmon camp says their campaign is being singled out. Salmon campaign spokesman Tom Puglia said other campaigns, past and present, have used the same accounting methodology Salmon is using with no repercussions from the commission.
"There are dozens of candidates running for office that are using the identical accounting methods we are," he said. "Our lawyers and accountants have spent hours and hours on these bogus allegations. We would have rather put these resources toward reaching out to voters and talking about issues."
Robert Franciosi, director of Urban Growth and Economic Development for the Goldwater Institute, is no fan of Arizona's Clean Elections Law and maintains it should be repealed.
He said accounting troubles between well-financed privately funded candidates and the commission are inevitable because the commission must provide almost instant matching money to candidates taking public cash.
"You look at Salmon, he's in trouble, he's out of trouble. He will probably have this hanging over his head on the night of the primary," Franciosi continued. "But I am unaware of any candidate getting traction because their opponent has not complied with Clean Elections laws."