Campaign Contribution Limits

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Campaign contribution limits were increased tenfold in a bill just signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer. Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, and Stan Barnes, of Copper State Consulting, will discuss the impacts of the increase in donations that can be given to candidates.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome To "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Last week, the governor signed into law a bill that increases campaign contribution limits To Arizona political races. Joining us to speak against The new law is Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona advocacy network. And here in support of higher campaign contribution limits Is Stan Barnes, president of copper state consulting. Good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us. Let's start with you, Stan.

Stan Barnes: Okay.

Ted Simons: This is a law now. Why is it a good thing?

Stan Barnes: It is a good thing because the present system is horribly flawed and this is a step in the right direction. It is allowing for reality. Reality is people have a first amendment right to support candidates and the artificial limits on those -- on that support forces money off to the side where it is less transparent, and is less controlled by the candidate whose very message is dependent on his election. And so, it is -- I count it good on a number of levels. I only wish they had gone farther with it.

Ted Simons: Why is this not a good idea?

Sam Wercinski: Well, the bill is focused on money, but it really is an attack on Arizona working voters, Ted. And it is not just this bill. There is a whole slew of them that are passing through this legislature this year. What this bill does is it shifts the focus, even more so, to big money special interest groups where -- when the focus should be on our voters. And that's really what the 1998 clean elections act was all about. It was getting a handle on all of the money being spent in the political game and having candidates look at who's actually going to be representing the voters and start engaging on them more rather than focusing on donors.

Ted Simons: How does this change that in a negative way?

Sam Wercinski: Well, when candidates need to compete using money, they're going to be going after large sums. The large donors. And we see that already with the special interest groups. So, the more money a particular special interest group can give, the more influence they're going to have at the capitol. The more representation quite honestly they are going to have at the capitol at the expense of working voters.

Ted Simons: The idea that regular Joes and Janes cannot get this kind of influence, how do you respond?

Stan Barnes: State legislator 25 years ago, feels like a long time ago, and I know from firsthand experience that is not true. When what we call a real person shows up at state capitol and says I have a problem, Arizona still is a small enough state and the people that serve down there are still not professional politicians, but laymen who have self-selected to be in the legislature and put up with what you have got to put up with to be down there. A person shows up there and wants their legislative attention, they've got it. I'm telling you, that is a fact. When it comes to campaigns, if a candidate cannot raise money, then money will be raised around him and spent on him. John McComish, senator, is a great example. He was constrained by artificial limits very, very low, and so money against him and for him went out into the darkness where it was not reported but it was hundreds of thousands of dollars bombarding him. He couldn't control his message. It was a bad situation and this will help remedy that.

Ted Simons: Senator did mention, I think his quote was, puts candidates themselves in charge.

Sam Wercinski: Well, I think candidates have been in charge. Senator McComish was reelected. So, what Stan is saying is that he was reelected based on independent expenditures and show corporations messaging that he really was not reelected because of his message. That is the point I take from there. But to Stan's first point about an ordinary citizen going down to the capitol and being able to speak to their legislator and really having their voices heard, there were a handful of individuals and groups that signed in favor of this bill. There were hundreds of Arizona citizens emailing, calling, going down to the capitol, including myself, speaking with our senators and our lawmakers, and this bill still passed. Four or five in favor of it on the record, versus hundreds and hundreds of working Arizonans against it. Voters voices are not being heard. Big money is drowning it out.

Ted Simons: Respond, please.

Stan Barnes: Yeah, and just not a fact. The average legislator is a person of well-meaning, good nature who wants to hear from their constituency groups. If a special group, Sam's group, any other group comes down there with their own political agenda and they're not heard, that is the nature of politics. But this idea of money in electoral politics, it is already there. This bill ought to bring that money into the light so that it will be reported, you will know who gave where and the candidate who is dared to get into the arena, actually can control his own message instead of it being done to him.

Ted Simons: Was this an effort to undermine clean elections?

Stan Barnes: I don't -- no, the short answer is no. My hesitation is that there is a lot of reason to undermine clean elections in my own humble opinion. It doesn't make Sam happy. Clean elections, I don't think, is a good model for the state of Arizona even though it is the law.

Ted Simons: If it does undermine clean elections, does it not violate -- clean elections was voter approved. Shouldn't there have been a three-quarter approval there --

Stan Barnes: I don't know whether there should have been or not. I do know it will likely be litigated and we will find out whether it is or is not --

Ted Simons: Is your argument not so much that money is a bad thing but money from certain directions -- we're talking about money, is money necessarily a bad thing in political campaigns?

Sam Wercinski: An individual's worth is often measured by their wealth in our society. That's a fact. Money is essential in order for individuals and groups to get their message out to our large population. A big problem with this bill was how it came about. The use of veterans bill as a Trojan horse to quietly get it into committee. The longer you can keep stuff out of public eye, the better off you are moving it forward. So, the other aspect of this bill is it wasn't comprehensive in nature. There is another bill, house bill 2575 that had bipartisan support, privately funded, clean election candidate funded, veterans, freshman legislators signed on to this particular bill for a comprehensive approach for campaign finance changes. It never got a hearing. Instead, county attorney for Maricopa county came in with this particular bill, got a sponsor to do a strike all and moved it forward.

Ted Simons: The idea of -- once again, I want to get back to clean elections. If we're talking about increasing limits, increasing caps, does this bill increase the spending, the caps, the limits on clean election --

Stan Barnes: No, it does not.

Ted Simons: Why not?

Stan Barnes: It does not. I think that would be another debate and whole other issue and perhaps that is the litigation point. Clean elections model is antiquated -- it was a good attempt to bring anti-matter into matter and they just can't be together. Candidate's ability to raise money is an indication of the candidate's creditability, and I'm not talking about self-funding the campaign. If you can't ask people for donations and they don't have the faith in you to give that money, then there is something wrong in that. If you can't do that. If you can do that, from the left side of the spectrum or the right, then you've got something to offer. You're proving that you are somebody worth having trust in. The clean elections thing throws that all to the side and hands taxpayer money to anybody who has a whim.

Sam Wercinski: Clean elections we want to continue to work on it, strengthen it and I'm hoping before this legislature ends, that we see house bill 2575 revived and parts of it pulled out as a voter voucher program that allows the voter to vet these candidates, not big money.

Ted Simons: We have to stop you right there. Good discussion and good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us.

Sam Wercinski: Stan Barnes: Thank you.

Sam Wercinski:Executive Director, Arizona Advocacy Network; Stan Barnes:Copper State Consulting;

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