Progressives, we have a situation…
If you want to get big money out of politics and you like Arizona’s Clean Elections system, it’s time to speak up to save it. Irregularities in the 2016 election prompted proposed rule changes by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. (There are three versions of R2-20-702 and a new rule R2-20-703.01 – here. You can send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to this link and submit comments by June 19, before the commission votes at its next meeting on June 22, 2017.)
Below is the back story and a detailed explanation of the proposed rule changes.
After collecting the requisite number of petition signatures and $5 qualifying donations from people who can vote for them, Clean Elections candidates (like me) receive lump sums of $16,000 for the primary and $24,000 for the general election– in exchange for vowing not to take big money donations. With seed money and family money, the total for a Clean Elections candidate is roughly $45,000 for a Legislative campaign. All unspent CE funds must be returned to the CE commission, and all unspent seed money or seed money overage must be returned to the individual donors.
During the 2016 election, two Democratic Party Clean Elections candidates turned over all or most of their CE funds in a lump sum to the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (ADLCC) of the Arizona Democratic Party (ADP) to run their campaigns, provide paid staff, and purchase/design/mail their printed materials. ADLCC provides these services to many traditionally funded candidates and offered them to CE candidates as well in 2016. A problem arose with at least two CE candidates because the party didn’t provide individual invoices for specific services rendered.
For example, to use the Dems’ giant nationwide voter database– the VAN — candidates have to buy a subscription for $800 and to use the Pima Dems predictive dialer it’s $300 for three hours. (If you look at my campaign finance report, you’ll see those itemized expenses paid to the Democratic Party.) The difference between this type of reporting and what happened with ADLCC and the CE candidates is those CE funds were transferred over whole hog before services were rendered. The expenses and services rendered were not itemized in the campaign finance reports, and theoretically, the party got to “keep the change”. (Unspent Clean Elections funds are supposed to be returned to the CCEC to be used by someone else in the future.)
So… $24,000 transferred to the Democratic Party for “operating expenses” doesn’t look good on a campaign finance report. I first heard about at the early December New Legislator Training from Republican Rep. Kevin Payne; his Democratic opponent was one of the folks who gave her funds to ADLCC. I was incredulous when he told me that his opponent “donated all of her money to the Democratic Party.” (This is how the GOP is spinning what happened.) I said, “They can’t do that. It’s against the rules”– or so I thought. He insisted. He was right. I was shocked… and pissed off because I don’t want either party to weaken or kill Clean Elections. (The parties make money when candidates run “traditional” because traditional candidates donate thousands to the parties, buy tables at expensive dinners, and can transfer their campaign contributions to other candidates who are underperforming in their fundraising. Clean Elections candidates can’t do any of that; their funds are used to get themselves elected. Period.)
As mentioned above, there are three proposed versions to change R2-20-702 which governs payments to a political party and when they are considered “contributions” to the party or payment for designated services rendered. There is also a new proposed rule to cover political consultants and transfer of CE funds to them.
R2-20-702 Option A is the worse and most restrictive option: “Clean elections funding shall not be used for an expenditure to any political party and such an expenditure shall be deemed an illegal contribution.” Basically, Option A would prohibit Clean Elections candidates from making any payments to political parties for anything, even legitimate services. This would prohibit Clean Elections candidates from purchasing a subscription to the VAN (the voter database used to create walking lists and mailing lists) or buying time on the predictive dialer. I am “meh” about the value of phone banking in the era of smart phones, but the VAN is an invaluable tool for organizing a campaign. Without access to the party’s voter records, Clean Elections candidates couldn’t compete. (Although some of their members run clean, the Republican Party has been chipping at Clean Elections for years. Because of the Republican Party’s Supreme Court attack on Clean Elections that eliminated the matching funds provision, there already isn’t a level playing field between big-money privately-funded campaigns and small-donor publicly funded campaigns. Option A would make it nearly impossible to be successful as a Clean Elections candidate.)
R2-20-702 Option B is less bad but still not good. Like Option A, Option B outlines spending for printing and obtaining voter or telephone lists and caps expenditures on the big-dollar dinners. It ends with: “No other payments are permitted to political parties with clean elections funding.” Option B would preclude what happened with the Democrats in 2016 from happening again, but Option B doesn’t address the issue of Republican Clean Elections candidates who turn over their CE funds to private political consultants– in advance of services rendered. There is no mention of political consultants in Options A or B.
R2-20-702 Option C gets specific. Option C strikes all of the rule’s original language and gets really specific about turning over Clean Elections funds to parties and specific about printing and mailing. Section 1 of Option C is pretty much like Option B. (Options A and B modify the existing rule.) Section 2 of Option C states that a Clean Elections candidate can “not make an advanced payment to a political party for services such as consulting, communications, field employees, canvassers, mailers, auto-dialers, telephone town halls, electronic communications and other advertising purchases and other campaign services” but doesn’t address Republican Clean Elections candidates who turn over lump sums to private consultants in advance of services. The keyword here is “advanced”. The Dem candidates who got into trouble gave all of their money over to ADLCC in advance of services. With Option C they can hire the party for specific services, but the party must provide the service first and issue an invoice for the services (like everything else purchased with campaign funds). In my opinion, Section 2-f of Option C is the part that is a bit heavy-handed regarding documentation of the mailings; that information should be on the invoice.
R2-20-703.01 is a proposed new rule about political consultants. This new rule focuses on consultants and addresses what Republican candidates have been done with political consultants and CE funds. (Options A and B primarily address what the Democrats did in 2016.) Consultants are really expensive, and I can’t see how CE candidates can afford them– my personal opinion. If you look at the campaign finance reports, you see that traditionally funded candidates often spend tens of thousands of dollars on political consultants. Thanks to big-money politics, being a political consultant is big business in the US and in Arizona. For example, one Dem freshman legislator who raised over $100,000 in 2016 spent more than $30,000 on political consultants and made several large contributions to the Democratic Party (which I assume was for gobs of phonebanking to raise all of that money.) My Republican opponent (who also ran clean) spent thousands on a conservative Phoenix-based campaign consultant; the new rule will address what Ana Henderson and other GOP candidates who funnel CE funds to private consultants do. I don’t see anything wrong with defining the use of public funds to hire political consultants, so I like this new rule. I particularly like Section E of R2-20-703.01 because it requires political consultants to reveal who they work for and to update the list regularly. Now… that would be interesting reading but they should require this of traditional candidates also. (For the record, I didn’t hire any consultants, and I didn’t use ADLCC.)
So – in my opinion, R2-20-702 Option C and the new rule R2-20-703.01 are worthwhile changes because they would clean up what has been happening with both political parties and make the system more transparent– without excessive burden on people who run clean. (You can write to Clean Elections at email@example.com or go to this link and submit comments by June 19, before the commission votes at its next meeting on June 22, 2017. If you are, have been or want to be a Clean Elections candidate or you just like being able to vote clean– please take the time to send your opinion. They want to hear from you.)
How Clean Elections Works and Why It’s Important
In 1998, after years of corruption scandals in the Arizona Legislature and years of the Legislature tinkering with or repealing multiple citizens initiatives, Arizona voters passed a citizens’ initiative creating the Citizens Clean Elections Commission (CCEC) and the clean elections system of running for offices. Also, not surprisingly, 1998 was the same year that Arizonans passed the Voter Protection Act, which stopped the Arizona Legislature from tinkering with or repealing citizens’ initiatives– like Clean Elections, Independent Redistricting, or marijuana decriminalization. (Yes – Arizona voters passed a marijuana decriminalization citizens’ initiative in 1996 by a huge margin, and the Legislature overturned it. If you listen to the 2017 floor debates on weakening the Voter Protection Act– a law the GOP absolutely hates — Speaker J.D. blames the “marijuana people” for passing the Voter Protection Act. I remember when decriminalization passed. I read the banner headline in the Arizona Daily Star and thought to myself: “You mean all we has to do was vote for it to get decriminalization? Why didn’t we do this before?”)
But I digress… back to the topic. Clean candidates collect the same number of petition signatures as privately funded candidates and a designated number of $5 qualifying contributions from people who can actually vote for them. This qualifies them for $16,000 for a primary election and $24,000 for the general election. Along with $4000 in seed money from anyone eligible to vote in the US and ~$700 in family money, that is close to $45,000 for a Legislative candidate like me (and more for statewide candidates). The trade-off for receiving CCEC funds is that Clean Elections candidates can’t take individual donations over $160 per person and can’t accept money from businesses, political action committees (PACs), dark money sources, or unions. Only real people who can vote can give money to a clean candidate– not corporate people.
The Clean Elections system forces candidates to connect with their voters– rather than connecting with rich people, lobbyists and PACs who can make big donations. Thanks to Republicans in the Legislature, the maximum donation to a Legislative candidate running a privately-funded campaign (AKA “traditional”) is $5000. Most of the people in the Legislature run “traditional”. If you look at the campaign finance reports, some legislators who have tons of money ($100,000+) have very little money from actual people who can vote for them. A recent quote from Lake Havasu City Freshman Republican Rep. Paul Mosely says it all. He told the Capitol Times that running for office was hard on his wife and seven children because during the campaign he had to spend so much time in Maricopa County campaigning (AKA fundraising). Mosely was busy collecting donations from rich Republicans in Maricopa County, while his Clean Elections opponent Democrat Beth Weisser was collecting $5 donations from voters back home in Mohave County.
When I was campaigning, I learned that the people love Clean Elections and absolutely hate big-money politics. Bernie Sanders’ small-donation presidential campaign shined a light on campaign finance and big-money politics and showed us that a true grassroots campaign can work.
I think Clean Elections should be expanded — not weakened. In fact, I proposed HB2531 to expand Clean Elections to county races and unpaid board boards (like the school board). In 2016, with a maximum individual donation of $6250 in the Pima County supervisors race, there was a bidding war among rich Tucsonans for seats on the board. (Again, look at the campaign finance reports.) In the bloody and hotly-contested TUSD school board race, $35,000 was dropped into the race near the end to sway voters with an outrageous number of street signs.
I agree that rule changes are needed to stop what happened in 2016– on both sides of the aisle– from happening again. For this reason, I support R2-20-702 Option C and the new rule R2-20-703.01. The Clean Elections system allows candidates to run for office without begging rich folks, political action committees, special interest groups, and unions for money. I have seen this first hand in the Arizona House: Clean Elections Legislators are the true independents because we don’t accept big money from anyone. All we need from the people in our districts is $5 and their vote. Isn’t that how it should be? Think about it. Our state and our country would have completely different governments if we ended big-money politics and required nationwide Clean Elections.
Here is one of my earliest campaign videos.