Clean Elections could not possibly have caused SB1062

19 Mar 2014 03:08 pm
Posted by: Donna

This FiveThrirtyEight piece has been getting passed around by both opponents of Clean Elections operating in bad faith and by well-meaning people who think it’s legitimate because it’s on Nate Silver’s site.

In 2010, Arizona enacted an immigration law so stringent that the U.S. Supreme Court was forced to intervene. Four years later, the governor had to veto a nearly successful effort to allow businesses to deny service to, among others, LGBT people. After that measure failed, the Arizona House of Representatives last month passed a bill meant to increase scrutiny of abortion clinics.

These bills are coming from lawmakers who’ve assembled the most conservative state legislature in the country. That’s according to Princeton University’s Nolan McCarty and University of Chicago’s Boris Shor, who tracked the ideology of state legislatures over the past 20 years and found that Arizona’s lawmakers are more conservative than those in Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. Modern, tea-party Republicanism has found no more accommodating home than the Arizona statehouse…

…Given all that, why do these hyper-conservative state legislators keep getting elected? Because the Arizona electoral system allows for extreme candidates to compete on an equal playing field with their more moderate competitors.2

Arizona has one of the most advanced clean election laws in the country. As long as a candidate for the state legislature reaches a minimum fundraising level ($1,250), the state essentially funds her campaign.3 (Only Connecticut and Maine have similar laws on public financing for state legislature candidates.) That allows candidates to stay viable even if they don’t have connections to the state party or local business leaders.

This is the perfect formula for the tea party to take on the GOP establishment. Imagine a tea partyer who doesn’t owe anything to established business interests in her district — that’s the kind of state legislator who might support a “religious freedom” law even if businesses are hurt by it. Indeed, a study by Harvard University’s Andrew Hall and a separate study by the University of Denver’s Seth Masket and the University of Illinois’s Michael Miller both show that clean election laws lead to more extreme candidates.

Okay, I very seriously doubt that Arizona’s Republican legislators are more conservative than those in Georgia, Mississippi, or Texas. All these states introduce passels of nearly identical right wing bills authored by national interest groups every year (or every other year in the case of Texas) and their GOP lawmakers regularly say disgusting things about rape and poor people in public. Republican legislators in blue states introduce bad bills and say terrible things too! And “polarization” tells you nothing except how far apart the caucuses are in their voting. We have a lot of “polarization” in the AZ lege because the Republicans constantly introduce awful bills, which the Democrats constantly vote against. It’s likely that Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas have more conservative Democrats who are willing to vote for awful Republican bills sometimes. That doesn’t make those bills less awful or those states more moderate than Arizona; they’re just less “polarized”.

People with a fetish for bipartisanship and collegiality are obsessed with polarization but it’s not a useful qualitative measurement. What it does do is reinforce the notion that both sides share the blame when in reality the Republicans are the problem. Congress was “polarized” when the Dems had both chambers from 2009 to 2011 not because the Democratic majority was passing wild-eyed radical left-wing bills, but because the Republicans decided right off the bat to obstruct anything and everything the black Democratic President was trying to do.

The author of the FiveThirtyEight piece is “senior political writer and analyst” Harry Entin, not Nate Silver, so all the people claiming “see, Nate Silver thinks Clean Elections did it!” can go ahead and put that down. Harry is yet another lazy pundit from DC who thinks he’s the foremost expert on Arizona politics now because he read some articles and maybe made a phone call or two. This is obvious when he says things like “That allows candidates to stay viable even if they don’t have connections to the state party or local business leaders”. Clearly, Harry is completely unfamiliar with the Arizona Republican Party, which actually gives full-throated support to wackadoo candidates on a regular basis. Harry might know that the “GOP establishment” here is a hot, crazy mess if he spent any time here observing our state’s politics.

Entin did link to some studies, one of which is this Harvard one, which makes the completely false claim, on page 5, that 95% of legislators in Arizona ran Clean in 2008. The real figures are about 63% of legislative candidates participating in Clean Election with an end result of 53% of the winners having run Clean. Not even close to 95% and traditional candidates outperformed Clean candidates proportionally. At this point, I’ve grown accustomed to opponents of public campaign financing having a loose grasp on facts but to be that wrong about something so basic is simply stunning. Anyone can go straight to the Clean Elections site to see who ran Clean and who won going back to 2002.

In 2008 fewer than half the Republicans who won that year ran Clean and all of the Republicans in that legislature voted for SB1070, as well as a bunch of other bad stuff. There is little difference between the voting records of Republicans who ran traditional and those running Clean, just as there’s little difference between the way Republican legislators vote in Arizona and how they vote in Mississippi. When presented with facts like that, opponents of public campaign finance spin vague yarns about how Clean Elections legislators “influenced” the others or some such horsepuckey, but they really have no evidence.

Blaming Clean Elections for this year’s SB1062, or really anything within the last four years, is even more preposterous. 2008 was the last year that matching funds – money disbursed to Clean candidates facing more well-funded traditional opponents – were available to candidates. Once the Supreme Court struck down matching funds, participation in Clean Elections dropped precipitously, down to 44% of candidates for the legislature in 2010 and then 36% in 2012. A mere 18% – 17 out of 90 total – of our current state legislators ran Clean. Of that 17, 10 were Democrats who voted against SB1062. And the Republican Governor who vetoed the bill ran on public financing. Anyone telling you that Clean Elections caused SB1062 is either lying or completely ignorant.

And look, I get that some people don’t like Clean Elections and have their own reasons that are perfectly legitimate. I have many good friends and people I respect who chose to run traditional for whatever reason and I completely support that. Public financing should be voluntary, whether it’s contributing to the program as a citizen or running under it. But it’s very important to understand that these dishonest attacks on the program come from some pretty vile impulses. Watch that Mitt Romney 47% tape again if it’s still not clear what little regard they have for us peons. The right wing elitists who are deliberately, and constantly, pushing lies to the national media want elections to be totally in the hands of the rich and powerful, the people with “connections”. It’s not about moderation. It’s about their disdain for democracy, and shame on the centrists, moderates, and even liberals who are joining them in that.


  1. Comment by Ken Clark on March 20, 2014 8:31 am

    Thank you, again, Donna for the insight. I hope people read this and share it.

    Analysis saying that we are worse off due to Clean Elections is faulty, seldom considers the role of redistricting in the entire process and is, frankly, lazy.

    A review of legislation (and legislators) from before 2000 will show that there were just as many crazy bills coming out of our legislature back then. Do you think Arizona got its reputation only after the year 2000?

    The reality, unfortunately, if that opponents have successfully gutted the matching funding mechanism of Clean Elections. Until we can reform it, we must at the very least have more transparency on all of this dark money floating around –an idea that only came to Michelle Reagan once she saw that the backlash on her other voter suppression measures were undermining her run for Secretary of State.

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