Clean Elections Repeal

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A bill has been proposed by the state legislature that would give voters a chance to repeal or keep Arizona’s public campaign financing system, Clean Elections. Tom Collins, the executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, and Tim LaSota, a local attorney who helped author the bill, will discuss the pros and cons of repealing Clean Elections.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," should voters reconsider the state's clean elections campaign finance system? Also tonight, details on an art auction to benefit the Phoenix art museum. And we'll learn about a program to help former foster children after they age out of the system. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Home sales in the valley fell from December to January, with the median price dipping $7,000. That's according to a report by Mike ORR, of ASU's W.P. Carey school of business. Orr says that January's home sales may have fallen, but they likely were the calm before the storm, with sales expected to jump 30% this month. Home prices are expected to increase as well due to the market's limited supply of houses.

Ted Simons: A bill is working its way through the state legislature that would ask voters to reconsider clean elections, Arizona's system of public campaign financing approved by voters in 1998. Here to give us both sides of the issue is tom Collins, executive director of the citizens clean elections commission, and Tim Lasota, a local attorney who helped draft the legislation to give voters a chance to repeal clean elections. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. Tom, we will start with you. Why not ask voters to go ahead and revisit this?

Tom Collins: Well, I think that one of the things that has happened here over the course of the last several months is we have tried to articulate to folks that what they're being asked to do is not just to repeal the clean elections act, but really what they are being asked to do is gut parts of the clean elections program that are substantive but retain the funding. And allow that funding - First they were going to do this so it they would pit it against education. Now it will just go into the general fund so that legislators can redistribute that. If it was really a repeal of the clean election fund, that would be one thing. But what is being set up here, what's being set up here is clean election fund but not one dime of that money go to elections.

Ted Simons: Why is this bill, effort, necessary?

Tim LaSota: Clean elections started out as a certain system of funding candidates with public money, because of a series of court rulings, only marginally relevant as a public funding system. No more matching funds, so we no longer have governors and attorney generals running under the clean elections. Fewer and fewer candidates each time. Clean elections, it has gone and found new things to do. A government agency, lost its charge or whatever you want to call it looks and goes and finds something new to do, it is usually bad news. In this case, they appointed themselves as the super cop to police all campaign finance activity in the state, even if a clean elections candidate is not involved, including the power to remove candidates.

Ted Simons: Respond, please.

Tom Collins: I think that what Tim is talking about there is just a fundamental disagreement with what the voters did versus what Mr. -- Tim and some of the folks in the legislators wish the voters had done. The voters say yes, we are going to have a public financing program, and also an independent nonpartisan agency in charge of ensuring that we have politics free from corruption, provide for lower campaign financial limits, additional reports on the independent expenditures, and in addition, provide for public financing and provide for information for voters about how they can participate. That is a whole system that the voters put in place, and so -- and frankly, when it comes to the question of enforcement, this is what the voters want. Voters put it in the act. And I don't think there is anybody out there who is saying that you need to have less accountability in the system for our politicians and others for the public interest than there is -- that there is, and the commission does that.

Ted Simons: Please.

Tim LaSota: Well, I don't think we need a whole separate bureaucracy to enforce campaign finance laws. We have a system for doing that. I think we have the attorney general, secretary of state enforce campaign finance laws. So, we're setting up this whole new bureaucracy, and it is headed up by essentially faceless, nameless, unelected bureaucrats, and they have a tremendous powers, the power to remove elected officials for unintentional -- minor campaign finance violations. That's not a good idea.

Ted Simons: Are you saying this is not what voters intended --

Tim LaSota: Absolutely, and, tom, if voters intended this, why did you take you 15 years to discover this power? Answer the question.

Tom Collins: Everything that Tim has just said is really not true. Arizona supreme court said in 2004, if anybody wants to look this up, they're welcome to, clean elections -- it said precisely what the commission has said about its authority with respect to candidates for state and legislative offices and independent expenditures. This is not any new-found power. That is -- that is a false statement. It is also true that, you know, it's true there is less folks using the public financing part of the program, but I think to say this is nameless, faceless bureaucrats, we need to take a step back and look at how the clean elections commission operates. Five member board, members appointed by -- currently the majority appointed by governor Brewer. They meet in open session. The public can see precisely how it is analyzing problems and see how it is spending its resources. Public can come and see all of that. Four lawyers, a retired Morgan Stanley executive doing public service in the interest of a non-partisan interest here and I think that that is just so -- this is a mischaracterization, as opposed to a system where you have necessarily someone with an R or DF to their name, in their office deciding on their own without any public interest.

Tim LaSota: Someone who has to win an election. I appear in front of the clean elections commission and I can't tell you the name of the chairman. These are people that - Now the clean elections commission asserts -- Tim -- Tim Recker -- it just came to me. I bet one person in 100 could not tell you one person on that body. This entity claims the right to remove elected officials and set itself up as the super cop over all of the campaign financial -- finance system. A system that morphed into something menacing and not intended by the voters, tom he's wrong. They only implemented this rule, this vast new power these last couple years.

Ted Simons: His original question, why did it take so long --

Tom Collins: That is just not true. The act says what it says. Supreme court recognized what the act has said for 10 years. Arizona supreme court highest authority on what state law is in the state of Arizona. So, this is a -- this is a false statement. What is true, is that, because participation was higher, right, among candidates, it looked as if perhaps all -- because all of the candidates, or many -- obviously saying all -- it looked as if clean elections didn't have this authority because you look at what is happening behind the surface. Participation rate in public financing dropped, no new -- it is simply a fact that the law has been what it has been since the voters passed it and the voters want there to be an independent place to holds folks accountable who will not necessarily be accountable for serious offenses in the political system.

Ted Simons: Without this independent enforcement, without this, we go to what?

Tim LaSota: We go to a system in which the secretary of state issues a reasonable cause finding if someone violates campaign finance laws and the attorney general enforces those laws. There's also a private attorney general action in the statute, if the attorney general doesn't do something, that an individual elector, anyone, Ted, you could bring a suit, file suit to enforce campaign finance laws. This is like setting up a whole separate police department for campaign finance laws. It's unnecessary and it impacts our first amendment rights because it's being enforced by an entity that is hostile to our first amendment free speech rights.

Ted Simons: Please.

Tom Collins: That statement alone is clearly not true. Clean elections commission, clean elections act itself, advance the -- advance free speech on Arizona and U.S. constitution and it says that. Part of the way you do that, providing more information to voters and a mechanism in which administration of campaign finance laws will be done in a fair and open matter. Sunshine week here nationwide, and that's something that we absolutely deliver on. In the most extreme cases, frankly. And there has never been a case that is not extreme, cases are often dismissed. You can see that in our record. If people were coming to the meeting. So, I think that everything that Tim is talking about in terms of the first amendment is just - it's kind of strange -- I don't think anyone --

Tim LaSota: It is not strange. You sued to get rid of the contribution limits, new contribution limits that were necessary to bring our laws in compliance with free speech rights. They sued the state of Arizona to try to take us back to contribution limits that are simply unconstitutional and they used taxpayer money to do that. I call that hostile to free speech. I guess Mr. Collins doesn't think so.

Tom Collins: I absolutely don't. Contribution limits in the state were set forth to ensure that there would be a break between dollars and political favors that gives rise to corruption. We live in a state where throughout the 1990s, we had a series of corruption scandals. That is what gave rise to the clean election system. It has a variety of different tools for the commission and voters that are created, all in service of bringing voters into the system and keeping corruption out of the system. And campaign finance was part of that.

Tim LaSota: Where is all of this corruption? I would love to hear from Mr. Collins. We had the scandal in the early '90s. Where is it, Mr. Collins?

Tom Collins: I think the answer to that question is that we have had a series of scandals in the '90s, that included that. We have had allegations related to the fiesta bowl. We've had other issues that come up from time to time. Folks prosecuted for campaign finance violations in federal court in this state. And so I think it is quite clear -- the question is, when there is maybe less crime than there was before, do you close the police department? The answer is absolutely not and that's Mr. LaSota's argument.

Ted Simons: I will have to give you the final word here because we're running out of time.

Tim LaSota: All of the cases that he talked about were prosecuted by other agencies that don't involve the clean elections commission. That is the best point for why we don't need this extra agency and they spend millions on self-serving promotional ads that could be better spent on useful things.

Ted Simons: In just a sentence or two, is it the enforcement action that is the biggest reason this is coming to FORE, or you don't think clean elections is offering the kind of candidates and the kind of legislature that elected officials promised.

Tim LaSota: I think it is both. I think voters have had a chance to re-examine this act and this commission has gone in a direction it was never intended.

Ted Simons: For those who say the legislature has more fringe candidates than ever, clean elections is not a success, you say --

Tom Collins: That's false. Legislature is not more polarized today than it was before. Clean elections and the possibility of enforcement on an independent basis is something that helps voters. Mr. Lasota's client, Mr. Horne, who he represented against the commission, is the kind of person who folks understand -- he made a conciliation with the commission. If he did not believe that conciliation was good, he didn't have to. He understood the commission has this authority and so should Mr. Lasota.

Ted Simons: I think we have to stop it there. We could probably go on for another half hour or so. Thank you.

Tim LaSota: Thank you, Ted.

Tom Collins:Executive Director, Citizens Clean Elections Commission; Tim LaSota:Attorney;

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