The Clean Elections Act was supposed to level the electoral playing field and remove special interest influence from Arizona politics. But one group has found ways to skirt the law: incumbents.
Under the Clean Elections law, campaign contributions are regulated and strictly limited. But elected officials get out from under the limits through constituent service accounts. Both parties used them following last years elections, charging $65 per person or $130 per couple to mingle with newly elected state legislators. But prospective election challengers must tap into Clean Elections subsidies or highly limited voluntary contributions to get their message out to prospective constituents.
The Democratic Party's 2008 Legislative Salute dinner is another case in point. The invited guests mingled with Governor Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Terry Goddard, and state Democratic legislators for $300 apiece unless they wanted to pay $10,000 as a gold sponsor, which reaped six VIP tickets. That event, designed to fill Democratic Party coffers, took place after the legislative season started, raising the very concerns about special-interest influence that Clean Elections was supposed to eliminate.
Given the clear unfairness, where is the outcry from the self-professed do-gooders who championed Clean Elections? Was the point really to establish a level playing field and reduce special-interest influenceor to advantage incumbents? As with the McCain-Feingold bill, increased restrictions on political speech in Arizona have given birth to perverse loopholes that often are worse than the original disease.
Clint Bolick is director of the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute, and serves of-counsel with the Rose Law Group in Scottsdale.
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