The Fiesta Bowl investigation is exposing the fact that taxpayer funding for political candidates under Arizona’s Clean Elections system does not, in fact, keep politicians clean. Nearly half of the state legislators receiving allegedly illegal contributions and previously undisclosed junkets from the Fiesta Bowl ran for office with Clean Elections funds. Arizona’s campaign finance system has nothing to do with preventing the appearance of impropriety and everything to do with funneling taxpayer dollars to politicians.
Indeed, Arizona’s system is easily gamed to allow politicians to evade campaign finance regulations on a scale unmatched by any alleged Fiesta Bowl player. During the 2008 race for three seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission, Sam George, a privately-financed candidate, ran on a “Solar Team” slate with two taxpayer-funded candidates, Paul Newman and Sandra Kennedy. As part of a coordinated campaign, Sam George spent nearly $500,000 on his campaign to trigger nearly $1 million in matching taxpayer subsidies to teammates Newman and Kennedy. Mr. George essentially leveraged Clean Elections to give hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to his preferred candidates.
Sam George-style gaming is not an anomaly. Ever since the enactment of the Citizens Clean Elections Act, taxpayer-funded candidates have been routinely accused of teaming with privately financed candidates, accepting illegal in-kind contributions, violating contribution limits, and even committing perjury. The reported shenanigans of the Fiesta Bowl are small potatoes compared to the systematic campaign finance abuse enabled by the Clean Elections system. Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court will finally end Arizona’s failed experiment in taxpayer-funded campaigns when it issues its decision in McComish v. Bennett and Arizona Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett by the end of June.
Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: McComish v. Bennett
Institute for Justice: Arizona Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett
Phoenix New Times: The Dirty Truth about “Clean” Elections