The specious sob stories behind the attack on Clean Elections

07 Feb 2012 06:29 pm
Posted by: Donna

Yesterday the Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee moved SCR 1021 forward, which would put a referendum to overturn Clean Elections on the ballot. It would be called, misleadingly, the “No Taxpayer Subsidies for Political Campaigns Act”. Polling shows that public support for Clean Elections is high but the impetus for getting rid of it comes from business groups and consultants who don’t like anything that threatens their grip on politicians and campaigns, hence the necessity of not mentioning the actual name of the program. They have managed to persuade more than a few pundits and wishful-thinking establishment Dems here to believe that Clean Elections is largely responsible for the hard right turn in Arizona and that getting rid of it will somehow restore moderation and collegiality to Arizona politics and even help Democrats.

It’s ridiculous, but this article in the LA Times about the Supreme Count decision on Clean Elections last summer captures the essence bf the false premises and dishonest motives behind the drive to repeal the program:

Conservative political neophytes like Smith have steadily taken over Arizona politics since voters passed the Clean Elections Act in 1998, a demonstration that the real-world effects of policy can defy partisan stereotypes. Now conservatives are scrambling to come up with new ways to finance challengers to the more centrist Republicans who once dominated state politics.

“That’s something that’s being lost in the reaction to this Supreme Court decision,” said Rudy Espino, a political scientist at Arizona State University. “This decision could actually help Democrats in the next election.”

Espino noted that conservatives — frequently those who favor a tough stance against illegal immigration — have steadily ousted incumbent Republicans in primaries over the years, which are dominated by party activists. Especially in legislative races, the winner of the GOP primary usually wins the election. That’s shifted Arizona’s politics strongly to the right.

“Clean Elections was one of those decisions that is an example of unintended consequences,” Espino said.

That narrative of Clean Elections pushing Arizona Republicans to the right is plausible, to the extent that it requires one to ignore the rest of the country completely. Arizona is one of very few states in the country that has any type of public campaign finances but we’re far from the only state plagued by wild-eyed right wing zealot lawmakers acting weird and introducing harmful bills. I like to use the example of Michele Bachmann, who got all the way from school board to the Minnesota state assembly to Congress to (briefly) being considered as serious Presidential candidate. Bachmann, who is clearly off her rocker, never received a dime of public campaign finance. Senator Steve Smith, referenced in the article, was elected in 2010 when the Tea Party wave swept rabid conservative neophytes in to state legislatures and Congressional seats across the nation. He credits Clean Elections for his victory, which is a true statement, in a sense, since that’s where he got his campaign funding. But you can’t blame Clean Elections for the wingnuttiness of Arizona legislators Frank Antenori, Scott Bundgaard, Lori Klein, Al Melvin, Terri Proud, Amanda Reeve, or Ted Vogt, to name a few, since none of them ran Clean.

Put the blame where it lies: On conservative think tanks, evangelical religious movements, and talk radio and Fox News propagandists. Also on all the self-serving Republican lobbyists and consultants in Arizona who were only too eager to push wedge issues election after election to get the flock to the polls so their big clients could get their tax cuts and deregulation. Pointing the finger and crying “Clean Elections done it!” absolves them of their past responsibility and allows them to pretend they can’t help having to donate to Senator Lori Klein, gun brandishin’ Tea Partier and GOP fundraiser “extraordinaire” now. They’ll wring their hands over the occasional embarrassment of a Birther bill but overall they’ve gotten most of what they want out of the Republican-controlled legislature.

Which is why the argument that getting rid of Clean Elections will help Democrats is simply ludicrous. With the exception of the few districts in which Dem voters are a majority, Democratic candidates in Arizona are usually at a substantial disadvantage against Republicans in traditional fundraising. Make no mistake, that is why business interests are so keen on killing public campaign financing.

“If the whole system went away, both Democrats and Republicans would have to reach out to a broader spectrum of people,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. “We would view that as a positive.”

Oh please. Hamer is disingenuously playing the “both sides are equally bad” false equivalence card here. The whackadoodles are on the Republican side and he knows it. He played a part in getting them there since he’s a former executive director of the AZ GOP. And he’s trying to pretend that the elitism at the heart of opposition to Clean Elections is truly populist. Nice try, Chamber of Commerce dude. The argument against Clean Elections is rooted in elitism. The narrative is that political extremism emanates from the working classes, and if you let the riffraff have a crack at elected office everything goes to hell. So it’s best to keep elected offices in the hands of the consultants, lobbyists, and business leaders who are the proper stewards of democracy. For some reason there are journalists, Democratic leaders, and even university professors who buy it.


  1. Comment by Timmys Cat on February 8, 2012 9:43 am

    . For some reason there are journalists, Democratic leaders, and even university professors who buy it.

    GAH! Bizactly!
    I think these so called Democrats should just ‘fess up to being the center-left Republicans they act like.
    It’s the old guard Dems who spout the coffee shop words in support of something, but then waffle when it works and they may have to take a public stance that won’t let them keep riding the fence.
    That’s why I’m psyched about new blood like Kyrsten Sinema, who’s going to run in the new 9th. (hee-hee i’m going to be in the new 9th, neener-neener) No need to be mushy to the GOP overlords when they are going to ignore you at best if you play nicey.

    Hah! A blast from the past in regards clean elections.

    Remember the Buz? –

    Finance reports released Tuesday show that Yavapai County businessman Buz Mills, a Republican, had spent $2.3 million as of May 31. That means each of the three Republicans running under Clean Elections, Gov. Jan Brewer, state Treasurer Dean Martin and Tom Gordon, is due to get the maximum $1.4 million in matching funds in addition to their initial $707,447.


  2. Comment by Paula Pennypacker on February 9, 2012 9:45 am

    Great article. I used to be a huge supporter of CE but not anymore. Lori Klein aside — corrupt right-wing political operatives like Constantine Querard have learned how to game the system, and made a fortune of CE money. His candidates would have NEVER had a chance w/out CE money. CQ has his candidates on a tight rope — they must do as they are told. Support Pearce and Arpaio or else! The AZGOP and the MCRC is bankrupt under their wing-nut control. We have got to turn off their funding source for their go-along-to-get-along candidates if we have any hope of returning any sanity down at the legislature. JMHO!

    Also, I am not sure, but did any of the candidates you mention above first run clean? Because some right-wing candidates run clean their first time — then switch to conventional funding. As you know far-right Republicans incumbents are hard to beat in Republican primaries.

  3. Comment by Donna on February 9, 2012 10:12 am

    Paula, all your objections to CE are perfectly valid reasons for you not to like the program. But they’re not strong enough arguments for getting rid of the program. Every method of campaign finance can be corrupted or gamed. And I had wanted to delve into Constantin Querard a bit but due to limits on how much of a published article I can quote I didn’t. As much as I disagree with everything CQ stands for he is not breaking any rules in how he leverages CE (he is alleged to have acted unethically and possibly illegally in other contexts, though). Democrats, instead of wringing their hands over it, should be following his example and recruiting progressive candidates. As far as those candidates being on a tight rope, that’s their choice. Clean Elections exists to give them some independence from the political machine. If they choose not to exercise any independence, that’s on them. And as far as traditional right wing candidates running Clean before, I’m sure some did. But if they were able to run traditional successfully later, it’s only because business people and lobbyists lined up to give them contributions. I have no sympathy for lobbyists whining about “extremism” when so many of them fell over themselves to give newly minted Senate President Russell Pearce cash at a fundraiser last January.

  4. Comment by Paula Pennypacker on February 11, 2012 10:56 am

    The CQ hypocrisy is stunning. Cut government to the bone and campaign against government spending — but allow my candidates to run using tax payer money.

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