Election/Campaign Finance Reforms

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A bipartisan effort has been started to get two measures on the ballot that would make big changes to Arizona’s campaign finance and election system. Former Phoenix mayors and Democrats Paul Johnson and Terry Goddard have joined forces with Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin in the effort. The goal is to have voters decide on measures that would shed light on so-called dark money and create a voting system that would eliminate the need for politicians to appeals to the extreme ends of the political spectrum. Hear from Coughlin, Goddard and Johnson about their ideas.

Ted Simons: A bipartisan effort has been started to make big changes to Arizona's campaign finance and election systems. The goal is to have voters decide on measures that would shed light on so-called dark money campaign expenditures and to create a top two voting system that would replace strict political party primaries. Joining us to discuss the measures, political consultant Chuck Coughlin, is working on the effort, along with democrat and former attorney general and Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard, along with another former Phoenix Mayor, Paul Johnson, a registered independent. We appreciate it, good to have you, let's get started. Let's start with the dark money proposal. What exactly are we talking about here? Who would be involved and what would they have to do and how would it change?

Chuck Coughlin: The four-page constitutional initiative, very simple, worked with General Goddard and a group of lawyers. It's one thing, if you spend more than $10,000 in a candidate campaign, to influence the outcome of an election, we are going to assert in the Constitution, Arizona's Constitution, that every Arizonan has the right to know the identity of that donor.

Ted Simons: 90 days prior to the election?

Chuck Coughlin: 90 days prior to the election if you are trying to influence an election and you spend more than $10,000, we have a right to know who you are.

Ted Simons: How do we know who you are when there is usually a daisy chain?

Terry Goddard: There always is a daisy chain in today's politics but the bottom point of this right, and I always thought that we had a right to know the supporting candidate but our legislature has never stood up for that, so we have to ask the people of Arizona to sign petitions, to make it in the Constitution, that they have the right. How do you get through the intricate waves of interlocking corporations that have hidden where major political contributors are, and I don't think that it's going to be simple, but I think that our proposition does it. Basically, makes it incumbent upon the person who spends the money, and the person who spends over $10,000 in Arizona, and for political purposes, and has to say what his original source of money was. And the original source is defined as frankly, the person who originally gave the money, not the hundreds or, not hundreds, but dozens of people through whose hands it passed.

Ted Simons: Why $10,000? Why that amount?

Paul Johnson: I think that there are a variety of reasons for it. One of them is that there are, that there are some limits set up in the existing law that created a $10,000 limit. Second, you are not trying to get to every individual, what you are trying to get to are the donors, and third, this becomes a very complex area of the law that you can have an effect on chamber memberships, labor membership, trying to force them to disclose things that could create constitutional problems for us.

Terry Goddard: And Ted, it's not coincidental that the $10,000 is the number that they used in the bank act to disguise or to go after money laundering. This, in my opinion is a law enforcement officer, is money laundering, it's just in the political sense, not in the economic sense, and right now, it's not illegal. We hope to make it illegal.

Ted Simons: But not propositions. Candidates yes, propositions no.

Chuck Coughlin: In proposition campaigns, just like in one, the citizens are acting as the legislature. You are acting as a body, and you are voting on an idea, and that is there for you to consume, digest, tear apart, and it is what it is. It's not going to morph into a mature idea, it is what it is, and Arizona has a very robust campaign finance, or disclosure law, as it relates to proposition and referendum right now. And so, we felt it was the simple way to do it, was to say, this is the citizens acting as the legislature, we're voting on an idea, not who is supporting it, and whereas in the candidate campaigns you want to know who -- they are in there for four years, and you want, or two years, and you want to know who is supporting that.

Terry Goddard: And you go hunting where the ducks are, and frankly, in the expenditure of dark money, and in the last, since 2010, where it became a crescendo, it has been on candidates, not propositions.

Ted Simons: The idea that it is not a good idea for social welfare organizations, which is what these are supposed to be, to have to -- some folks do want to stay anonymous, and anonymous speech has been protected throughout the years here, and some voters say, that --

Paul Johnson: They do. I think really, here is the issue. If we allow people to continue to funnel money, launder money through the Cayman Islands and into 501c3 and 4s, and back into the campaigns -- campaigns, the Koch brothers will be the least of the problems, it will be the Chinese or Isis, or in Arizona, people who want to take our water, places like Las Vegas that have economic interests that could spend lots of money here without being disclosed. There is a reason that the public should have a right to know because there is public policy at stake. Issues that affect them at stake.

Ted Simons: Has it always been that way and that the public had that right to know and we knew?

Chuck Coughlin: Well, Citizens United changed the ball game, and we assert, as a team, that we think that there is eight votes on the Supreme Court, and for disclosure but what they did when the Supreme Court ruled on the Citizens United was, essentially, allow corporate entities to influence candidate elections, and spend that, but each one of them, in individual and in other cases have variously said that we support disclosure, and they have left that up to the legislatures and the Congress, and of course, they have not done so, and we have waited as a group and we said , and you know, and Ted, for me, what it came down to me was that I really feel that there is an erosion in public confidence, which we're seeing across the political spectrum, in the public's ability to trust the elected officials and trust our institutions any more. And rightly so, we don't know who is paying for, so that's where I went, you know, with Paul and he asked me to work on the other issue, and we came together and said, you know, for the betterment of the institution, for the betterment and the continued execution of sound public policy in Arizona, we have got to do something.

Ted Simons: Last question.

Terry Goddard: There is always a right --

Ted Simons: It's been argued.

Terry Goddard: Argued, ok. I missed the argued part. There really hasn't. Anybody who gives over $20 in a candidate campaign in Arizona has to disclose their name and address, an employer.

Ted Simons: Last word before we get to the top two. Why is it good for Arizona?

Terry Goddard: I think it's very good; it's not just good, in my opinion, it's critically -- critical. Arizona was the point of the sphere. In 2014 we had more dark money playing outside of the campaigns, and then any other state that I've been able to find in my research. It played over half of the money that was spent for statewide elections, and they won every race that dark money played in. I think that that's makes Arizona the experiment because if we don't do something to turn back this tide, I believe that it becomes permanent as a part of our elections, and I don't want to stand for that or live in a state, and this is Justice Scalia's words, I don't want to live in a state that allows people to participate in the debate without telling you who they are.

Ted Simons: Let's get to the top two primary proposals. You have been behind this idea before. Didn't do all that well. Lost 2-1. What's different?

Paul Johnson: Well, a lot of things are different, first, there are more Independent voters today, today they have made up a majority in the state. And secondarily, the proposal is different, and it's tied with the anti-dark money effort. Effectively, all we're trying to do is allow every voter the right to vote in every election. The current system is just not fair. It's not fair to an individual who decides to run as an independent. If you run as a Republican today you need for Governor about 5,000 signatures, 4,000 if you are a Democrat, and the estimates are you need somewhere over 40,000 signatures to run as an Independent. An independent voter is taken off of the early ballot list every year on the primary system, and if you look at the presidential primary, we're in a position where you are going to spend 10 million, and yet, one-third, a little over that, 1.2 million people are not allowed to vote in it. That's not sustainable, and we have created a system where less than 4% of the public is electing our elected officials inside the primaries.

Ted Simons: What changes with this measure?

Chuck Coughlin: This -- the changes this time were, we were requiring all candidates to be treated the same. Regardless of party affiliation, so if you want to run for an office, and you are a Democrat, Terry is a Republican, and you have the same, and Paul is an independent, all three of you have the same signature requirements to get on the ballot, let the best man or woman win, the electorate sees everybody, and we leave it up to the local governing jurisdiction as to whether or not you have party affiliation on it, so in the case of the state, the state could say that we want to have party denomination, which is the case with local governments or school board elections, they can choose not to.

Ted Simons: Is there a 50% plus going on here? If the primary, if I win, let's say that I win, I had like 62% of the vote, I have to run again?

Paul Johnson: It's the opposite and a little better, if there are two candidates in the primary, you don't hold it, you just move to a general election. Which ensures the most amount of voters have a say over who is going to be elected.

Ted Simons: That makes sense to you?

Terry Goddard: I think it does because it's not quite the same system in this non-partisan cities have today, where you are accurate, and they would be elected with 50% in the primary. But in this case, it's truly top two, so if you have 62% and somebody else has 30, that's going to be the run-off in the general but we don't want to replay the same situation where x and y run against each other, in the primary, and against each other, same group in the general, and if that's the -- if only two people qualify for the ballot, they go straight to the general election. And Paul is right, that's where most people vote, most don't it exists.

Chuck Coughlin: And saves taxpayers' money, if you don't have a sufficient number to run, just run, and you expose most of the candidates to the largest segment of the electorate. We think it strengthens the democracy and the Republic to have more candidates, to have the candidates, experience the larger electorate and experience that. The legislature has been in favor of that, done election reform measures where they require school board and school elections, and district elections to be on the general election. We ran the last campaign last cycle on Prop 480, the hospital campaign, and everybody goes you are going to lose that, it's on the general election ballot, and we win with overwhelmingly, we have more votes than Governor Ducey in Maricopa County in that cycle because people understood it, were able to communicate to them, and it strengthened the county.

Ted Simons: California and Washington, maybe Louisiana, I don't know what's going on there, but has this been tried before?

Paul Johnson: Tried and worked very successfully. Nebraska has had it for 70 years.

Ted Simons: We had that.

Paul Johnson: And so, they have done a great job, and locally, every city in the state with the exception of Tucson, has this model. We know it works. We know that it's effective and that it changes the way that things work politically but most importantly, it's there to all voters, and to all candidates.

Chuck Coughlin: It is the thing that is important to recognize, is incumbency will be the dominant factor so it's happened in California, two cycles ago and in Washington, and you will routinely see incumbents, will be re-elected, but what it creates is a level playing field for everybody, over time. And we believe it will create that competition, and in this cycle in California you are going to see that. Barbara Boxer is retiring from the Senate seat, and it is a very interesting experience that the California voters will go through. Typically what you would see is the most liberal Democrat in California would run and have a lock on the Democratic Primary, and that would be over with. That person would be elected, particularly with the influence of dark money that they would go and influence that. Now everybody is exposed to the electorate. Everybody is exposed to the open market, and why in the world would we want to limit the ability of ideas to be discussed in the open marketplace? That's the beauty of the proposal.

Ted Simons: All right, we have to stop it there. Gentlemen, great discussion and good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS. Members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Paul Johnson: Former Phoenix Mayor, Terry Goddard : Former Phoenix Mayor,Chuck Coughlin: Republican political Consultant,

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