On this week's episode of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel: Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, stops by to talk about the commission's ongoing conflict with Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan over regulating dark-money groups that are spending dollars in Arizona elections. Then Demion Clinco, executive director of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, gives us the preview of Tucson Modernism Week. Watch online here or tune in at 8 a.m. Sunday morning on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on broadcast, DirecTV and Dish. Or you can listen to Zona Politics at 5 p.m. Sunday on KXCI, 91.3 FM.
Here's a transcript of the show:
Hello everyone. I'm Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, and we're here to talk Zona Politics. Today, we're talking with Tom Collins, the executive director of the Arizona Clean Elections Commission, the agency that manages Arizona's publicly funded campaign program. Thanks for being here on Zona Politics.
(Collins) Thanks for having me, Jim.
(Nintzel) So you've got a little bit of a dispute between the commission and the Arizona Secretary of State these days. And Michele Reagan, she seems quite upset with your agency right now.
(Collins) Well, I think to just kind of give folks some background, when the voters passed the Clean Elections Act, they did more than just create a public financing program for state candidates, which they did. They also created the Clean Elections Commission that would have oversight over campaign finance law, including folks who make independent expenditures, and that's you know, typically what people refer to as "dark money." People are spending money in races and whether or not they're disclosing their donors or their spending or those kinds of things, they're things that the commission has a role in that the voters gave to it. The secretary's office has decided that they dispute that role, notwithstanding the fact there are court cases and the law itself that say that's exactly what the commission does, and they've essentially said that they would like the commission to stop enforcing the clean elections act and defer or otherwise just accept that the Secretary of State's office is the exclusive authority on campaign finance law in the state.
(Nintzel) They're saying you're usurping her authority. Are you usurping her authority?
(Collins) Well, that's not possible, because the voters set forth what is in the Elections Act. The reality is that the Secretary of State does not and has not ever tried to enforce (clean elections).. It has to be a Clean Elections Act. It's a separate act. They have no authority over there, and the legislature even passed the law passed in 2011 that specifically says that they don't have authority. So the irony of calling the commission "usurpers" is that the only usurping going on is the secretary's office trying to prevent the commission from doing the duties the voters gave to it.
(Nintzel) Let's just back up a little bit and talk about, this really kind of gets down to whether a group needs to register as a political committee if it gets involved in campaign activity, as I understand it correctly, and it's something that has become more important in the wake of the citizen's united decision. More nonprofits have started engaging in political activity without revealing who their donors are and, which is, you mentioned earlier, "dark money," which is the term used for money being spent when you do not have disclosure of who is actually contributing the money.
(Collins) Sure. So, you know, so here's the way this breaks down. So in 2010, the Supreme Court announced the opinion in Citizen's United, and basically what that says is if you're a corporation, you can spend money out of your general treasury, and previously there was a federal law that said you couldn't do that for clean elections. In Arizona, actually, our state constitution says you can't do that. So our state constitution, that part of it, doesn't now function. Corporations can't make direct contributions to candidates, but previously, they couldn't. Clean elections were restricted and there were statutes that reflected that. So in 2010, the legislature passed a new law that purported to have corporations register for their spending. But what's happened, because of the policy choices the legislature made, is that you've got a number of folks who sort of come in with entities that are 501c4s,that is, and that's just a tax designation, it's how they file taxes, and they make expenditures, and they may or may not be reporting the expenditures at all, and then they may or may not be political committees that have to report their donors, so what you have is whether or not you're a political committee is a question of what you do, really, in Arizona law. Whereas whether or not you're a corporation or you're a 501c4, or you're a union is a question of how you formed yourself. So those are different legal questions, and there's an interplay there. And the secretary of state's position has been essentially that if you're a 501c4, you're probably not a political committee, essentially, that somehow the federal tax law controls state campaign finance law, and you know, I think there's some disagreement with that in the community of folks who work on campaign finance issues. Whether or not a 501c4 has to register as a political committee in Arizona has to do with what, in fact, are they doing in the state. Now, the problem has been practitioners, be they on the right or the left, have observed this, and the commission has been looking at this now for a year, before secretary Reagan even took office is "How are you going to define what that purpose is? How are you going to count the races that get involved? I'll give you an example just so people understand. "How are you going to define what that purpose is?” How are you going to count 501c4s can be involved in ballot measure campaigns, and they can be involved in candidate campaigns, right? So back in 2014, what you saw among the regulated community was a lot of confusion about whether or not ballot-measure spending counted toward making you a political committee or not. And some 501c4s believed that it did, and some didn't, and so what the commission had been going on doing is trying to say, "Look, while we have this definition of a political committee, we ought to know what it is and we ought to be able to say to a person who is trying to spend money, and to the public ‘Look, this is what counts to be a political committee’." And that's really what this is all about. And so it's a wide-open process where folks are able to weigh in. But that's really what it comes down to, is "What political activities you are engaged in are going to count toward whether you have to essentially disclose to the voters that you're trying to get their vote.
(Nintzel) And part of this revolves around some language in the law regarding "primary purpose." And what you guys are trying to nail down is, "What is primary purpose in the statute?"
(Collins) That's right I mean, the basic upshot is that the statute says that, you know to be a political committee, you have to have the primary purpose of influencing elections in the state, so you know, for example, in our view, that means it does include ballot measures, it includes candidate elections. You can't offset your candidate spending with ballot measures spending and say "Oh we didn't do any politics at all. We don't have to register with anybody at all." That's not been the rule, but, you know, it's a delicate balance. The reality is the legislature hasn't defined that down. Now, recently, the Secretary of State's election director has said that he thinks that it's low-hanging fruit for the legislature to come back in and define primary purpose further in a way that, and if that happens, that would be great. I think that if there were a good definition the public could understand and follow, that's really what the commission's about. You know, there's all this rhetoric around usurpation is sort of missing the point. The point is that regulators, the regulatory regulated community and voters all ought to be able to look at something and say "If you do this, this is what happens, and this is why...." And they'll also tell you conversely, what the flaws in the system are, and why you might not be getting the information you ought to be getting.
(Nintzel) And this is we're talking primarily about the outside groups that are getting involved, which would seem which we've seen a whole lot of in recent years since Citizens United, these third-party groups, not the candidates themselves, who clearly are engaged in politicking, but these other groups that may be running a lot of campaign ads questioning the background of people but then saying, "Oh, yeah, but we're not actually involved in the campaigns."
(Collins) That's exactly right, and I think that, you know, when you look at clean elections and what it has to do with "dark money," you kind of have to look at it as a system So the first thing clean elections does, with the public financing piece, is that it allows candidates to run for office, and breaks the link between dollars and political favors that can lead to corruption. So that's one part of it, but it really is a system for voters, so one of the things it does is we provide candidate statement pamphlet that goes out to every voter in the state, which allows you to hear directly from the candidates. You may not agree with what they say but it gives you something to sit with that when all the outside groups have spent all their money you in your own home can look and say, "Look, my candidate said x, y and z, and I agree with that, or I don't agree with that.” We provided for debates among candidates that public financed candidates and privately financed candidates all participate in. We provide these additional reports, baseline reports at the very least that are part of the cClean Elections Act that provide information on the metrics of how much is being spent, even if it gives you the donors, it tells you the volume, and at least the top line of what's being spent. That's all information that voters have in order to vote informed, and that's what it means to have a clean election system. It doesn't mean one piece that happens to be public financing, it means a voter-driven, election-reform system that has at its center the idea of the more information you provide the voters, whether it's about spending, whether it's about the candidates themselves, whether it's about opportunity from the interaction with candidates in the public-financing context, you're bringing voters in, and you're pushing corruption out.
(Nintzel) And you are taking comments on this proposed rule regarding primary purpose and disclosure and political committees through about the third week in October, when you're going to meet and the commission, your bosses will have a vote on how to move forward.
(Collins) That's right, and the commission will have a number of things actually on its plate at that time. Secretary Reagan has filed her own petition with the commission, to have the commission actually take out from its rules the regulations related to political committee filings, so that proposal's in front of the commission, so the commission really has a full plate of options in front of it, all of which we're receiving public comment on now. Anyone can weigh in through October. Anyone can come to the meeting and weigh in, but the question and the commission then will have a choice between if it wants to ultimately take some of this off the table by addressing Secretary Reagan's petition, if they want to work on their own rule that they proposed and worked through our process, and then there are a number of other subsidiary rules that are there, too. So it's a big policy decision, a big open discussion that actually everybody can participate in, and that again is one of the key differences between clean elections and every other kind of election process in this state: The commission meets in open session. It's subject to the Open Meeting law. Anybody can come and hear the analysis. People can come and weigh in. Secretary Reagan has come and weighed in. I mean, all other election administration in the state is done in an office of a city clerk, or the secretary of state or the attorney general or a county attorney. There's no public scrutiny that occurs.
(Nintzel) And we're talking about a commission, just so people know, it's five members who meet generally the third Thursday of every month up in Phoenix.
(Collins) That's correct. In fact our chairman is from Tucson, and we have our newest member is also a Tucsonan.
(Nintzel) Mark Kimblel, the former Tucson Citizen editor and columnist I think you worked with him when you were at the Tucson Citizen, didn't you? You gave up the newspaper business.
(Collins) That's right. I did.
(Nintzel) Good decision?
(Collins) You know, actually I think I actually miss the newspaper business. It's a wonderful thing for people to do but ….
(Nintzel) It's the life of kings. Let's talk about just Clean Elections in general, how this program works. Candidates have to gather a certain number of $5 contributions to qualify for a flat amount of money from the state, this is for state office and legislative offices, the governor.
(Collins) That's right. So, right now in fact starting August 1, candidates, for this year it's for the legislature and the corporation commission um, are gathering $5 qualifying contributions. Those are small contributions. They have to come from Arizona voters. That's just kind of a side point that, you know, clean elections, you know, folks talk about "Oh these folks can't show real support. If they could show real support, they'd raise private dollars.” The irony is, that to take to get $5 it's got to be from an actual person who actually lives in Arizona. It's not some PAC. It's not some out-of-state person on a mailing list. It's an actual person who lives here, in the state or in your district. And you could, you know, you show enough support through that, you do get a grant from the state to ?, and you know, that will be ongoing, now. You'll hear folks be out there collecting those over the course of the next few months and we expect to have, I think we have, 18 or 20 candidates signed up already, and we expect to have a good number of folks who continue to use the program.
(Nintzel) With all the money that's now being spent in politics, is it running as a clean elections candidate still viable for statewide candidates as we saw very few, I think, statewide candidates, participate in this last go-around. Do you think more and more of them are going to turn to private funding simply because they have to remain competitive?
(Collins) I think there are a couple of issues there to unpack. First, the reality is that in one particular race we didn't see really it was the governor’s race, we saw that we had two but the AG's race, we had none. Neither Horne nor Attorney General Brnovich nor Felicia Rotellini. So, and then corporation commission, all of the candidates ran clean, and superintendent of public instruction, the winning candidate ran clean, and so, and the mine inspector and the treasurer were both unopposed in the general, so I don't think it's really a fair characterization to say fewer because it's kind of an odd mix of who actually ran in the first place.
(Nintzel) I think that's in the primary and ...
(Collins) but it is true that there is less general usage now than there was years ago. I mean I'm not disputing that, I'm simply saying you also have to look at it in terms of the world that we're living in, for example, I'm not sure, it's funny (?).... some folks have ideological ... Governor Ducey wouldn’t have run clean no matter what, I don't think. It's just not part of his ideological views on those kinds of things for example. I mean, those are decisions the candidates make, and that's my point, is that the candidates have to make the decision. What you hear from a lot of political consultants is you can't do it if you run clean. And the reality is that of course who the person who's going to get paid out of the money who doesn't want you to run clean is the political consultant. So to me, you know, I think that, yeah, should the grants be higher, they should be, in fact the voters wanted folks to get three times as much money as they were getting currently getting. It's the legislature that essentially gutted the funding after a court case about the mechanism for releasing those funds. We didn't have to sort of like, you know, the spigot was broken on your house and you pulled out all of the plumbing, so, yes, we think, and officials said repeatedly over the last couple of years, that they ought to be more but I think the corporation commission folks are going to continue to run. I think folks who want to get their message out are going to continue to run if they have the opportunity and I think that over time, I think we'll see, I just think that the reality is that you know, if you run a good campaign and you're in a position to get your message out, I think, you know, this is an opportunity that exists for you and it gives you an opportunity without having to go to PACs and others for money.
(Nintzel) Alright, we're gonna have to leave it there and I'd like to thank Tom Collins from the Clean Elections Commission for coming in today and we will be right back with Demion Clinco to talk about Modernism Week.
And we're back with Demion Clinco, the executive director of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation who is here today to fill us in on what's happening with Modernism Week. Demion, tell us what Modernism Week is all about.
(Clinco) Modernism Week is a celebration of Tucson's post WWII history from the 1950s, '60s and early '70s, and Tucson, it was a really transformative time for Tucson during this period. In the 1930s the population was just over 30,000, and by 1960, it had quadrupled to over 220,000. So it was really the biggest point of growth in Tucson, and it really is this golden era of our history. There was extraordinary design and architecture, and a lot of thought about what the future of our community would be, and what that future would look like.
(Nintzel) And before we go any further, you've got you've actually brought a clip this week. Let's take a look at what Modernism Week is all about.
(FILM NARRATION. Clinco: Modernism Week is this incredible time in Tucson where we really celebrate our mid-century design and style (music) It's a series of parties, lectures, tours, exhibits, film, a mid-century modern marketplace and expo Things about making it fun, wonderful, classic, mid-century modern era with classic cars and Airstream trailers, and wonderful furniture but also looking at the history and dynamics that led to the development of our city in the post-World War II era. It really is a dynamic and interesting part of our community's history and it's something we're celebrating.)
(Nintzel) Well it looks like a lot of fun, Demion. The Brink building made a little cameo appearance. That's where we shoot our show here at the Zona Politics.
(Clinco) Absolutely, I mean, we really make a specific effort during Modernism Week to highlight buildings all over the city, so as a program and as a purposeful function, we actually go out and try to utilize buildings in a different way, and hope that the community sees them as being a true architectural resource and gem, and not just a library or an old market, but really begin to think about them as important architectural icons in our city.
(Nintzel) So tell me a little bit just about the legacy of modernism here in Tucson. How many of these buildings and structures do we still have left?
(Clinco) So there are hundreds of these incredible structures in neighborhoods all over the city In the 1950s we really saw the suburbanization of Tucson Eastward and northward to southward, and lots of neighborhoods with cul de sacs and little ranch houses with plates of glass, some …. Lots of architects from California moved to Tucson during this era to work and we had a number of home-grown architectural designers as well, people like Tom Gist and Nick Sakellar, who really came to define the era with their sculptural, emotive and environmentally responsive architecture that used burnt adobe and material palettes in the International design idiom that was permeating the country, so Tucson is really a remarkable place because Modernism expressed itself because of the desert environment so that we can call it Desert Modernism. It responds to the environment; it uses local building materials and it creates something that is distinctively us, and something that we really need to celebrate.
(Nintzel) What do you have on tap for this year. You're kicking off with a party at the Tucson Convention Center next Friday, Oct. 2.
(Clinco) So Modernism Week runs from October 2 through Oct. 10, and there are over 35 different, specific events. The first weekend, we're headquartered at the Tucson Convention Center. The landscape designed by Garrett Eckbo, who was one of the founders of landscape architecture in America, was just listed in the last few weeks on the National Register of Historic Places at the National Level of Significance which is the highest level that an object, a place and a district can be designated. So we decided to take Modernism Week there to really get the community down and begin to think about the TCC a little bit differently. It was built by two of Tucson's major architectural firms, Friedman and Jobusch, and Cain Nelson Ware and Cook during the early 1970s, and it uses an interesting material palette, and is surrounded by these modern Marden gardens. So this year, we'll be filling the gardens with vintage trailers. Collectors and people who have restored their vintage trailers from all over the region are bringing them to the TCC and they'll take up residency. We're also going to have a car show across the street at MOCA, along with the Firebird III, which is a concept car that GM is sending us. We'll be having an expo and furniture exhibit, so if you're looking to fill your house with mid-century modern designs, over 30 concessioners and dealers will be at the TCC selling mid-century modern furniture and design elements We have lectures from national speakers from all over the country are coming in. From Chicago, Adam Call from Herman Miller is going to talk about experimental films of Charles and Ray Eames. Alan Hess, who is a historian from Los Angeles is going to be here to talk about Googie architecture. Adrian Fine from the L.A. Conservancy will be here to talk about how different communities all over the country are grappling with urban renewal, and either tearing them down or working to save them and that really sort of reflects on what's happening at the TCC today because it's on the bond.
(Nintzel) Tell me about this Firebird III. That's like the Batmobile.
(Clinco) In 1958, General Motors commissioned a group, a design team to create a sort of car of the future and they unveiled at the Motorama in Detroit in 1958 the Firebird III, and it was truly the concept car of the future. For car aficionados — it didn't fly although I think in early renderings it was conceived as being able to sort of be this space car, and it certainly looks like it. This car has fins that look like they're off of an airplane, and it's a remarkable design object that really transformed American car design in this country. There was only one produced, and it will be on display at MOCA during Modernism Week. We're having a special reception because two of the designers, one who lives here, Jim Ewen, and the other Norm James who's flying in from San Diego, are two of the gentlemen who are left who were on the design team, and they're going to talk about the experience of designing this car that transformed American automotive design.
(Nintzel) And I wish they'd made more than one.
(Clinco) Wish they'd made more than one.
(Nintzel) Maybe they'll come out with something ....
(Clinco) And it has a joystick not a wheel.
(Nintzel) Awesome! Talk a little bit about some of the tours you've got going on.
(Clinco) So we have a whole series of tours — walking tours of downtown looking at the Mid-Century Modern buildings that are in partnership with the Living Streets Alliance. We have a home tour on Sunday the fourth of October, where participants will be able to go around the community and visit some of the most remarkable Mid-Century Modern homes designed by Lewis Coon, Nick Sakellar, Sylvia and William Wilde and Art Brown. So it's really an opportunity to sort of see intimate architecture that you might drive by but never knew what was behind that sort of austere wall and it's these sort of extraordinary interiors of glass and volumes of spaces and really classic Mid-Century Modern design that you would expect to see on the set of Mad Men and not in mid-town Tucson.
(Nintzel) One of the things that Charles Bowden once said was every time he left town, he came back and they'd pulled down something else that he loved in the city. How much of this have we lost.
(Clinco) Well we've lost a lot, I mean we have lost a tremendous amount. I'm doing a talk on October 10 about William and Sylvia Wilde who were constructivist Russian architects in Tucson from New Jersey, and they sort of designed out of the Bauhaus tradition, and both of their buildings are gone, and they were, slowly, as the city evolved and changed, they were torn down to make way for strip malls, or they were re-faced with stucco and they're unrecognizable today. That's sort of a tradition that we see. You know, after the 1970s, this architecture really fell out of favor, and so it was easy to update it by you know putting up a drywall or some stick and stucco and covering up the original design details, and so a lot of our Mid-Century Modern buildings are just hiding behind a sort of stucco facade waiting to be restored and revealed. Broadway Boulevard is a great example of some of our richest commercial buildings, and as part of the original Broadway alignment, it's supposed to tear down over 150 of these buildings, which would be a real loss. Other communities like Palm Springs are using this type of architecture to parlay it into economic activity. Palm Springs, they're on their tenth year of their Modernism Week. This is our fourth, and it brings over 35,000 people to Palm Springs, and over $20 million dollars to the Palm Springs economy during that two-weekend window and it's becoming a year-round tradition for them, and it's really reframing their community as an epicenter of design and culture.
(Nintzel) So you're getting the same kind of interest from out of town for Tucson's Modernism Week yet?
(Clinco) Absolutely. So the New York Times did an article a few months ago about Tucson's Mid-Century Modern design and we received emails from all over the world of people who are booking tickets to come to Tucson Modernism Week and see our Mid-Century Week on an equal basis. We're getting emails who are coming here who want to see these architecture treasures and we're working to provide interpretation and opportunities for them to be able to actually go out and see these Mid-Century buildings. During this era it was really a golden age of Tucson's design, sort of era an era which was our sort of design movement. We had fashion designers and jewelry designers and industrial designers and architects all working and sharing ideas that were expressing the Sonoran desert, and so we were putting out to the entire country who we were through our industrial, commercial and architectural design, and I hope that people get excited about our design traditions, and maybe Tucson will become a center of American design again.
(Nintzel) Is this, do you owe a big debt to Mad Men for triggering all this interest in this era?
(Clinco) I think that there was, I think that you sort of see over the years—Mad Men played a huge part— but you sort of see a cyclical tradition of Americans looking back to the past and to early parts of the 20th Century, and getting inspired. In the '80s we saw a huge surge of Art Deco which was harkening back to the '20s and '30s, and in the early 2000s, has certainly been defined by renewed interest in American design from the 1950s and '60s, and we couldn't do without our partners like the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun and Copenhagen who have really come together to help make sure that we have as many events free to the community as possible.
(Nintzel) And you have a big party happening at the Gallery in the Sun, right?
(Clinco) Ted DeGrazia was an artist here in Tucson. If you haven't been to his gallery at the top of Swan, DeGrazia's Gallery in the Sun, it's free and open to the public, and he was an artist who really took Southwestern design flavors and intentions and sort of created pop art and mass produced it out to the entire country, and has sort of become synonymous with Western kitsch.
(Nintzel) He did that gallery himself ...
(Clinco) He did.
(Nintzel) Adobe block and...
(Clinco) And cactus, cactus floors. I mean it's really, it’s a really remarkable building. It's adobe expressionism, and then a rare one of the only examples from that era of someone using adobe in a sort of, this interesting modern way. And so to celebrate Modernism Week the Gallery in the Sun is putting on a special exhibit of Ted DeGrazia's Modern work, and that will be Sunday, Oct. 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. and it's free to the public, so we hope people will come out and join us for that, as well as all of the events that you can find out about on tucsonmod.com.
(Nintzel) And that is our show for today. I'd like to thank my guests, Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation executive director Demion Clinco, and Arizona Citizens' Clean Elections Commission executive director Tom Collins. I'd also like to thank our supporters at the Arizona Inn and Hotel Congress, as well as our media partners at the Tucson Weekly, Tucson Local Media, KXCI and the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. If you missed any part of today's episode, you can check us out at zonapolitics.com, where you will also find transcripts of this and our past episodes, and be sure to look us up on Facebook. Next week we're hosting a Ward 4 city council debate between four-term incumbent Shirley Scott and Republican challenger Margaret Burkholder. Thanks for watching, and we'll see you next time.