The Clean Election Initiative should be washed away.
By Emil Franzi
POLITICS AIN'T beanbag," said a Chicago Alderman whose name escapes me. Proposition 200, the so-called Clean Elections proposition, is the product of people who think it is, along with some special interest groups that bitch about other special interest groups, like the AARP, which has endorsed it. A severely flawed measure, it will make things worse, not better. It is an attempt to legislate a series of political myths, the biggest of which is that you can somehow take the politicians out of politics by monitoring them with a group of elitist mandarins.
Read all 23 pages of it. If you don't, or can't, then don't vote for it. It has more minefields than a back road in Afghanistan.
Besides further restricting campaign money to state candidates, it would establish both public financing of campaigns and a powerful paid commission to oversee it. (At $200 per day, plus expenses--wanna bet the commissioners will find a whole lot of reasons to meet regularly?) It places further caps on campaign spending, reduces contribution levels even further than presently set, punishes those who don't "voluntarily" sign up by reducing their contributor levels even greater, and controls the expenditures of independent committees by scoring their efforts to the candidate involved--even when the candidate doesn't even know about it.
The method of selection and the exclusions stated for a seat on that well-paid and powerful commission are so convoluted that it reminds me of a parody board game invented by the late Ernie Kovacs that somehow involved 38 former Mayors of Hong Kong.
The program will supposedly be funded by a fees on lobbyists, a surcharge on fines collected from violators (kinda like bounty hunting), and voluntary income tax check-offs. After that runs out, general fund tax money will be used. Plan on that happening very early.
It won't get you "better government" or "cleaner elections." It's actually a formula for more non-participation.
The biggest problem in Arizona elections isn't too much money. The amounts laid out in this measure are about what gets spent now because of present restrictions. The "special interests" have other means of exercising power over our public officials, primarily by owning the bureaucracies, the lawyers who control the bureaucrats, and the media that reports on them. Arizona's elections are some of the cheapest in the nation based on per capita voters. Comparisons to small states like Maine and Vermont, where state legislative districts have a tenth as many voters as Arizona, are ludicrous. And the influence of PACs was basically gutted in 1986 by capping their total contributions.
The proponents of this "clean government" initiative have arbitrarily determined what a political campaign should cost. Like any form of price control, it has no basis in reality. Why should a "clean" gubernatorial race cost $800,000? Does another quarter million suddenly make it 'dirty"? Why should candidates for lower state offices get less money to run a campaign with the same number of voters?
Money isn't the real problem with Arizona campaigns. It's the failure of the media to give a damn about elections and provide meaningful reporting about candidates and policies. Prop 200 is based on the false assumption that by limiting campaign finances, the voters will somehow discover there's an election going on without hearing about it from the candidates. The net result will be even lower turnouts, even fewer candidates running, more wealthy candidates (who can't be stopped because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled an individual's personal spending can't be limited), and wackos cashing in. Under the initiative, legislative candidates who collect 200 $5 contributions are eligible for $25,000. That provision will have guys like Joe Sweeney hitting up people in parking lots much in the same fashion as he gets his petition signatures now.
One supporter is the League of Women Voters, a group who must somehow believe that the inane forums they produce will provide sufficient information. Most are run by moderators even more ignorant of real issues than most reporters. They don't ask follow-up questions and refuse to allow tough initial ones from the audience. Their whole process has degenerated to political pitch-and-putt, with such cogent topics as "where I went to high school."
The wonks who dreamed this measure up have some other hang-ups. They complain about "non-competitive districts." No district can be "non-competitive" in the primary, but they only allocate a maximum of half the monies for any primary.
Which is one of several ways this differs from the current city matching-fund system. Under that system, candidates' funds are matched by the city funds, which requires candidates to have a political base large enough to receive contributions.
The other big difference: The city system leaves candidates with enough money to run a real campaign. Absent that genuine carrot, real candidates will decline to participate. And more will simply decline to run. Running for office is pain in the ass now and this stuff makes it an even bigger one.
If the people who drew this proposal had spent as much time and money finding and running candidates for office as they spent buying the petition signatures for this measure, they might be able to do some real reforming. Instead, they've abandoned the obligation of political activists to field candidates and support candidates. The big corporations who run this state are hardly worried about the ultimate result, clearly evidenced by the lack of special interest money being spent to defeat it. All it will do is reduce the ability of other candidates to run effective campaigns.
Perhaps the next step after this doesn't work will be an initiative licensing candidates so that only the "right people" can run for office by defining their virtues similarly to the description of who's worthy to be on the Clean Government Commission.
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