Arizona Republic: Clean Elections Candidates Must Attend Public Debates

By Alex Stuckey, The Arizona Republic

Seventy-two of nearly 200 state and legislative candidates in this year's election are choosing to run using Arizona's publicly funded Clean Elections program.

These candidates have opted to collect $5 donations from constituents to support their campaigns. Once state legislative candidates gather 220 donations of $5 and hand that money over to the Clean Elections Fund, the program gives candidates about $14,000 for a primary and nearly $22,000 for a general election, said Daniel Ruiz, the spokesman for Citizens Clean Election Commission.

Candidates for the state's Corporation Commission, who run statewide, must collect 1,650 donations of $5 to receive nearly $92,000 for a primary and nearly $138,000 for a general election, Ruiz said.

Voters concerned about corrupt candidates passed the act in 1998 after collecting enough signatures to put it on the ballot. Clean Elections candidates agree to not accept money from special-interest groups. In addition to the public money they receive, they can collect and spend a limited amount of individual contributions and personal money early in their campaigns. A legislative candidate, for example, can collect up to $3,589 in early contributions and $670 in personal money.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that candidates can no longer receive extra public funds if an opponent running as a traditional candidate spends more than the Clean Elections candidate received.

The commission provides money to candidates through a surcharge on civil penalties and criminal fines, the $5 qualifying contributions and any monetary penalties levied against candidates for violating the act. The commission doesn't dip into the general fund.

To keep voters involved, the commission puts out pamphlets containing 200-word statements from each participating candidate and holds public debates, Ruiz said.

"This way, people don't just vote for candidates because of the sound of their name or their party affiliation," he added.

The commission will hold nine candidate debates in the next two months. Clean Elections participants must attend the debates. Traditionally funded candidates are encouraged but not required to attend.

The original article can be viewed here.