Clean Elections

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Fewer candidates are signing up for Clean Elections public campaign funding in Arizona because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago that struck down additional funding for candidates to match spending from those running with private dollars. Todd Lang, Arizona’s Clean Elections Director, will talk about the trend.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. An Arizona supreme court justice will soon be serving as a federal judge on the 9th circuit court of appeals in San Francisco. The nomination of Justice Andrew Hurwitz was confirmed today by the U.S. senate. Hurwitz faced some opposition from pro life conservatives, but Arizona senators Jon Kyl and john McCain both supported his nomination. Governor Jan brewer will now get to select a replacement for Hurwitz from a list of candidates submitted by a nominating committee.

Ted Simons: Fewer candidates are signing up for public campaign funding under Arizona's clean elections law. That after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the law that provided matching funds to clean elections candidates who were outspent by their privately funded opponents. Here to talk about the current trend in public campaign finance is Todd Lang, executive director of the citizens clean elections commission. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Todd Lang: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: Before we get too far into this, give us a back ground. What happened with the court? What happened regarding matching funds?

Todd Lang: Well, the clean elections system is designed to allow people to run without having to raise that money. And what the program did was give Juan 1/3 of the allotment up front and the rest was to be issued in matching funds. More economic efficiency was the idea. Don't waste money where it's not needed. The supreme court struck it down last year, the matching funds system so we no longer have 2/3 of what was intended for candidates.

Ted Simons: You also have candidates, because clean elections candidates, you can be greatly outspent now, can't you?

Todd Lang: You always could be outspent but now it's more likely. With the advent of super packs, it becomes harder and harder to run as a participating candidate.

Ted Simons: Legislative candidates for running clean get how much?

Todd Lang: About $1400,000 for the primary and $25,000 for the general.

Ted Simons: What about state office?

Todd Lang: For the governor it's over $1 million. It's a significant chunk of change and it ranges down.

Ted Simons: What do we have right now for this cycle in terms of how many candidates have signed to run clean elections?

Todd Lang: Well, there are about 71 candidates by my last count earlier today, running clean. That's about 38% of all candidates. And that's a down turn from last cycle. In 2010 there were about 45% of all candidates ran clean.

Ted Simons: Why the down turn?

Todd Lang: It was expected. After matching funds were taken away we lost a lot of incumbents. They are afraid of getting attacked by attack ads and want to be able to raise the money. Without matching funds to respond they are afraid of getting hit.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, with the court order in mind, a decision, I should say, in mind, will fewer candidates overtime run clean?

Todd Lang: No. This is about what we expected. We knew before all this happened in 2006 and 2008, about 2/3 of all candidates ran clean. And we knew with the loss of matching funds it would go down. And we anticipated it would go down to about 40% and that's where it is now and we expect it will say between 1/3 and 12 3/from here on out. It does provide enough money to be competitive and give the voters a choice. That's the essence of what clean elections is all.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask why run clean if the opponents are all locks and chains are off there?

Todd Lang: You get to spend your time meeting the voters in your district. Talking about the issues and not on the phone raising money. And you are not behold be to the lobbyists or insider so you have a lot more freedom. That's attractive to a lot more folks. There are some incumbents because now they are incumbents, people want to give them money. The influence pedalers want to give them money so they can raise money the old-fashioned way. But when they are given a choice, if they have the option, a lot of them still want to run clean but ultimately if you are afraid of getting attacked, afraid of getting grossly outspent you may make the decision to run traditionally.

Ted Simons: Can the clean elections system be improved?

Todd Lang: Well, sure. We are always trying to improve it either through rule making or statutory changes. We have had some statutory changes this last session. We had some a couple years ago. And the way would be to improve now would be to replace matching funds. There's two ways to do it. One would be to simply restore that total allotment. Give people the full amount, not 1/3, so they can run clean. And be competitive even if they get hit with attack ads, the problem it's wasteful. You are giving money in races where it's really not needed. The other way to do it is a hybrid system where we would have matching funds, we would bring them back but they would be triggered by the money you raise from small donors and we would match that.

Ted Simons: Give me an example of that. Let's say I am a clean elections canceled and you are not. How would that work for me?

Todd Lang: Well, in terms of what the traditional candidate does it would be unrelated because that's what the supreme court's worried about. Basically what would happen is you would go out to your supporters and ask for $100 or less, they would give you the $100 and then the program would match that two or $300, $200 or $300 and that incentivizes donors to give to you because they know it will be matched so the candidates of their choice can be competitive. And the idea is, the studies show those small donation, $100 or not corrupting, and doesn't turn off the public. And so you get the benefit of a clean elections system, and you are still competitive. Ideally we wouldn't have to do that. We would still have matching funds but that's been struck down so we have to find another way.

Ted Simons: For those who say when that was struck down, it basically said that the clean elections system is simply not viable anymore. How would you respond?

Todd Lang: Well, I think we have seen it is viable. We had 40%, 45% last cycle. And we have 38% participation this cycle. That's a lot of folks who wouldn't be running but for clean elections. That's a lot of choices that the voters get, they wouldn't have otherwise. And choices at the ballot box, that's what our democracy is all about.

Ted Simons: How long do candidates have until they need to file as clean?

Todd Lang: Basically the primary. That's the easy way. The rule of enthusiasm the primary is when they have to decide whether to run clean or run traditionally.

Ted Simons: You expect those percentages to grow?

Todd Lang: No. We will lose a few folks because there's always a few folks who don't qualify. So we will lose a few folks but not significant numbers.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Todd Lang: Thanks for having me.

Todd Lang:Director, Clean Elections Arizona;

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