The Goldwater Institute took the bull by the horns last week and hosted a forum that asked the question: “Is Clean Elections cleaning up Arizona politics?” Led by Allison R. Hayward, a campaign finance attorney who authored a review of Arizona’s six-year experiment with taxpayer-financed campaigns, the other panelists were Todd Lang, executive director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission (CCEC), and Brad Smith, former Federal Election Commission chairman. (This is as it should be at all public discussions, with opposing viewpoints trading microphones like jazz musicians trade fours.)
Allison R. Hayward, campaign finance attorney.
According to Hayward, Arizona’s system is not delivering as promised. “Public financing is tricky in the way that anything centrally planned is tricky,” she said. Some findings: “Since the Act passed, voter turnout has not improved; incumbency re-election rates remain near 100 percent; and minor or third-party participation has not improved.” In 2004, all this consummate non-improvement cost over $8 million. Only a bureaucrat or doe-eyed do-gooder could approve of spending that sum of money in vain.
The partisan divide in participation is closing. Republicans are beginning to use “Clean” Elections funding, because they are penalized and handicapped if they raise their own campaign cash. Not exactly a raging endorsement of the system.
CCEC Executive Director Todd Lang maintains that all the litigation challenging Clean Elections has had the same outcome in finding it constitutional. He’s whistling past the graveyard with that statement, since the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the Institute for Justice’s court challenge that’s been in the hopper for five months now.
Lang likes to point out that 85 percent of people polled say they favor Clean Elections. “Of course 85 percent of people were in favor of it,” Brad Smith countered. “Everyone would say they want ethics in business, too.” But the proof is in the pudding: only 9 percent of the nation’s taxpayers check off the little box that would give the federal government a few measly dollars for funding politicians’ campaigns.
Without a doubt, more candidates participate in “Clean” Elections each year since its implementation in 2000. “Quoting how many people participate is irrelevant,” Smith states, "since that’s like saying ‘Our welfare system is working because so many people use it!'”
The title of “Clean Elections” is the mother of all misnomers. Law Prof. Smith suggests that henceforth we should refer to it by what it is: the taxpayer-financed system. “We should not buy into that name game,” he says. Since politicians are rated below used-car salesman by the general populace on the respectability scale, the backers of the Clean Elections Initiative knew that it would never pass if truth in labeling forced them to call it “Taxpayer Funding of Politicians.
Darcy Olsen, Goldwater Institute’s president and CEO, gave praise to Todd Lang for having the courage to face an audience who mostly was against the Act. I, however, attribute his appearance to tone deafness rather than bravery.
It never ceases to amaze me how perpetrators of government programs are blissfully unaware of the infringement on our liberties they are touting. The CCEC denies that it is capricious in its prosecution of offending candidates, favoring one political party over another. They flout their own rules and send out puff pieces and fund TV ads, a definite no-no, since only the Clean Elections Institute can spend money on advertising. But the Commission escapes prosecution because they call it “educating the public.” Give me a break. Clean Elections needs to be thrown out, along with the dirty bath water it’s splashing on our rights of free speech.
Becky Fenger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.