By Sam Wercinski for the Arizona Republic
Arizona may be stuck in a drought, but our political system is submerged under a mudslide of dark money, layered with political corruption. U.S. Supreme Court decisions, most recently McCutcheon and Citizens United, have overturned 100 years of anti-corruption laws, made corporations into people and mysteriously turned money into "free speech."
Further muddying the water, Arizona politicians passed laws to reduce campaign-finance disclosure, gave exemptions to big-money groups from election rules the rest of us follow, and allowed millionaires and billionaires to sling more mud into our elections. And then there is the outright disrespect for campaign laws by elected officials.
We agree with The Arizona Republic's May 1 editorial, "Campaign-finance reform: A snake with 2 heads," that dark money in politics is a serious challenge. Yet we disagree with the assertion that efforts to boost voters' influence aren't worth pursuing. Arizonans have approved initiatives to fight the corrupting influence of big money and advance policies for the people. The Citizens Clean Elections Act and the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission are two such measures that voters continue to support while politicians attempt to repeal, rather than strengthen.
It shouldn't take a biblical event to part Arizona's sea of political corruption or to free voters from Arizona's dark-money sludge. We don't need another AZScam or Fiesta Bowl scandal but rather courageous representatives who will act on behalf of the "many vs. the money," as Republic columnist E.J. Montini put it.
Voters want to know how candidates will fight political corruption. Will they respect existing laws and strengthen them to expose dark money and fight corruption? Voters seek comprehensive reform, and we offer four measures that candidates should openly support and pursue if elected:
- Ban all gifts. Republic columnist Laurie Roberts described the inaction by lawmakers to ban gifts despite the Fiesta Bowl scandal. If a freebie isn't available to the general public, then public officials certainly shouldn't accept it.
- Require instant online disclosure of all money used to influence our elections and officials. The independent Clean Elections Commission provided funding to build a system, but the Secretary of State's Office has failed to complete it. Meanwhile, lawmakers muddied the water even more by passing laws such as Senate Bill 1344 that make it easier to cheat in elections. This encourages more dark money, undermines disclosure and will lead to more scandal.
- Establish meaningful conflict-of-interest and ethics rules enforced by an independent body, like the Clean Elections Commission. Officials should also be prohibited from sponsoring or voting on laws that enrich themselves or family members.
- Strengthen the Clean Elections campaign-finance system to empower voters, increase citizen participation and support greater "speech" so participating candidates can control their message over dark money. The Republic supported giving privately funded candidates more "speech" ("Bill to raise cap should be law," Opinions, April 11). Our politicians are three years behind in addressing this same problem facing Clean Elections candidates.
Arizona voters have and will fight political corruption. Arizona politicians can side with them by strengthening the Citizens Clean Elections Act with anti-corruption measures outlined here. The question candidates should be asked this election year is: Will they, once elected?
The original article is available here.