Posted by: Donna
The preferred narrative of the pundit/consultant/business establishment types in Arizona about the root of our current political woes, as I’ve described here numerous times, goes like this: Arizona was long a bastion of bipartisan collegiality and cooperation until just a few years ago, when Clean Elections and hyper-partisan primaries ushered into office a bunch of disagreeable unwashed ruffians with extreme views. On both sides! The obvious solution, therefore, is to do whatever it takes to put elections even more firmly in the hands of wealthy business leaders and corporate lobbyists, who are self-evidently sensible and pragmatic. This was clearly the thinking behind last year’s Top Two Primary initiative and the numerous attacks on Clean Elections from the Chamber of Commerce over the years.
This session the Legislature passed, and Governor Brewer signed into law, a dramatic increase to campaign finance limits for statewide, legislative, and local candidates. Under this new law, legislative candidates who could previously only raise $488 per cycle can now raise $2500 from individuals and $5000 from super-PACs. Clean Elections advocates plan to sue, claiming that the new law violates Arizona’s public financing constitutional amendment.
I have spoken with some liberal Democrats who admit that they’re glad to see the end of Clean Elections. Some are consultants and campaign donors who feel traditional financing gives them more freedom to help their candidates win. Others have bought into the oft-repeated myth that Clean Elections caused all those radical right wingers to get elected. No Democrat I’ve talked to, however, is happy about the greatly increased contribution limits. So this appears to be a “be careful what you wish for” situation for Democrats who disliked Clean Elections. Public campaign financing, and the check on the influence of big money in elections that was the intention of the Clean Elections amendment, appear to be dead in the water in Arizona if this law stands.
The vote on the bill broke down nearly perfectly on party lines, with all the Democrats in the legislature voting against it. All but one Republican (Michelle Ugenti of Scottsdale) voted for it. Which really puts the lie to the notion that rabid right wing Republicans in Arizona are the slightest bit concerned about their ability to raise lots of money. They vote “pro-business” every time, for one thing. For another, an awful lot of wealthy people in Arizona happen to be rabid right wingers.
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