By Sam Wercinski and Barbara Klein
The battle lines are drawn.
Our electoral system is being hijacked by special interests that favor big-money politics over working voters. If Arizonans want a government of, by and for the people, it’s going to take a fight.
Supporters of big-money interests include the Maricopa County Attorney, Free Enterprise Club and Goldwater Institute. They have teamed up to empower wealthy campaign donors through House Bill 2593 – a veterans' bill that was transformed into a Trojan Horse now threatening our electoral process with more money.
As reported by Mary Jo Pitzl and The Arizona Republic ("Higher election-donor caps OK’d," April 10) we believe HB 2593 is unconstitutional, violating the Voter Protection Act and Clean Elections Act. Not only does it raise political contributions tenfold, to $5,000, but it also radically expands the influence of Super PACs, allowing them to give $10,000 to any candidate – whether school board, judge, legislator or governor.
If signed into law, HB 2593 will give more representation to big-money interests and their lobbyists, impacting public policymaking more than ever in our state’s 100-year history. Big-money donors, even from out of state, win; Arizona voters and taxpayers lose.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision gave corporations and unions equal political rights as flesh-and-blood Americans, the worst qualities of our national elections have seized Arizona’s system with little voter-centric response by lawmakers.
Gross amounts of undisclosed money pour into our elections through independent expenditures and shell corporations. Working voters have less representation, as their elected officials are more dependent on big-money interests that bankroll their campaigns and those helpful but hardly “independent” IEs.
Rather than instituting clear and enforceable disclosure requirements for IEs and corporations, encouraging transparency, supporters of HB 2593 say more money to candidates is needed to control their own messaging. They claim the undisclosed money will decline and shift to candidates.
It’s hard to imagine the voting public biting on this hook. HB 2593 offers no real disclosure and allows deep-pocketed groups to influence elected officials with larger contributions. The Fiesta Bowl scandal showed the public -- again -- how campaign cash, freebies and gifts are used to buy votes and gain access.
HB 2593 blows the lid off of contribution amounts that were set by voters in the 1998 Citizens Clean Elections Act, which itself was a response to the last money in politics scandal, AZSCAM. Most working Arizona voters don’t have the cash needed to compete with big-money groups who influence every imaginable policy, from health care and education to taxation and tax loopholes.
Comprehensive reform bills like HB 2575 and some proposed by the secretary of state have been ignored.
It’s no coincidence that, just as special interests line up behind HB 2593, Arizona’s popular Clean Elections system faces another attack to defund the voter-approved law.
For nearly 15 years, Clean Elections candidates have demonstrated viability, being vetted by voters, not donors. Clean Elections gives voters more choices on Election Day and requires incumbents to prove their value to the very voters they wish to represent.
Clean Elections focuses on voters with the goal of making elected officials accountable to them, not donors.
Gov. Jan Brewer should veto HB 2593 as unconstitutional and charge lawmakers to pass comprehensive campaign-finance changes as offered in HB 2575, along with disclosure requirements for IEs.
With this approach, lawmakers’ and citizens’ concerns can be addressed fairly to achieve government of, by and for the people, not just big-money interests.
Sam Wercinski is executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network. Barbara Klein is president of the League of Women Voters Arizona.