Cleaning House: How the Citizens Clean Election Commission Protects Public Funds

Arizona’s Clean Elections system provides candidates for state office a way to raise campaign funds without relying on wealthy donors or lobbyists. Overseeing this system is the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, a bipartisan body of non-politicians created by the original Clean Elections initiative in 1998. The Commission’s enforcement process is one befitting a body responsible for public funds, as is illustrated by the case of former state Representative Jesus Rubalcava, who recently resigned his office amidst an enforcement action against him. 

Audits

Commission staff perform routine audits of all participating legislative and statewide candidates’ campaign finance reports after every election cycle, to ensure compliance with the program’s rules. Audited candidates are required to provide the Commission with campaign finance reports and any related documentation, along with a site for the Commission to conduct fieldwork. When an initial audit indicates a potential violation of the Clean Elections rules,  the Commission orders a comprehensive audit of the candidate’s bank statements and any documentation related to campaign finance activity.  

Complaint and Response

Clean Elections rules allow any person who believes a candidate to be in violation of either the Citizens Clean Elections Act or the rules themselves to file a written, notarized complaint explaining the alleged violation. The complaint against Rubalcava was an internal complaint filed by the Commission’s Executive Director Tom Collins. The Commission notifies candidates within five days of receiving a complaint meeting the minimum requirements stipulated by Clean Elections rules – including the candidate’s full name, address, and a clear recitation of the alleged facts.

The candidate then has five days to respond to allegations in a written, notarized statement; failure to respond within the allotted timeframe may be interpreted by the Commission as an admission of guilt. In Rubalcava’s case, he wrote that he accepted “the report on findings . . . [and] the consequences of [his] wrongdoing.”

Decision and Penalty

After receiving the respondent’s submission, the Executive Director reviews all relevant documentation in the Commission’s possession, and makes a recommendation to the Commission as to whether there is good reason to believe a violation has occurred. Should a majority of the five commissioners concur with that recommendation, the Commission can open an investigation capable of compelling both witness testimony and the production of pertinent documentation.

Should such an investigation return sufficient evidence of rule violations, the Commission is authorized to assess civil penalties in the form of payments to the Clean Elections Fund. One kind of violation, spending more than is allowed under the rules, can even result in disqualification or forfeiture of office. In Rubalcava’s case, the Commission ordered him to repay the entirety of the funding he had been initially allotted.

Still have questions? The Commission has produced this helpful infographic summarizing all aspects of the enforcement process: 

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