Voters approved the Arizona Clean Elections Act in 1998 because they were tired of the pay-to-play culture that permeated the Legislature and wanted politicians to be more accountable to them.
In his op-ed this month, the Free Enterprise Club’s Scot Mussi misled readers about the program as well as the role and responsibilities of the Clean Elections Commission, while omitting his own organization’s role in weakening Clean Elections.
Here are the facts.
Mussi is trying to dismantle Clean Elections
Candidates didn’t stop using Clean Elections because “politicians don’t want their money anymore,” but because recalcitrant lawmakers and corporate special interests the likes of the Free Enterprise Club made it less attractive to people choosing to run for office.
Initially, the system worked as it was supposed to. Candidates from diverse backgrounds were able to run and win legislative seats and statewide offices on the strength of their appeal to voters, without relying on wealthy special interests or powerful lobbyists.
But lobbyists and big donors knew they’d lose power if candidates could run for office without needing their money, so they fought the program from the start.
One of the biggest blows to Clean Elections came from Mussi’s organization. In Arizona Free Enterprise Club vs. Bennett in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key component of the program — the “matching funds” that allowed Clean Elections candidates to stay competitive against heavily financed opponents or last-minute outside spending.
The law keeps surviving attempts to kill it
Instead of updating the program to reflect the new ruling — as Connecticut and Maine did for their clean elections laws — Arizona lawmakers, egged on by groups like Mussi’s Free Enterprise Club, have tried to kill Clean Elections. To their chagrin, they failed every time.
Mussi’s attack on the Arizona Clean Elections Commission also misses the mark. When the voters passed Clean Elections, they created new campaign finance laws to limit the influence of big money groups on privately-financed candidates and tasked the Commission with enforcing those laws.
As the Arizona Supreme Court has recognized, those laws include contribution limits and reporting requirements, as well as disclosure rules for “independent expenditure” groups.
Don't like the law? Ask voters to change it
If Mussi doesn’t like the law, he should ask the voters to change it. But he knows that Clean Elections is popular with the voters, so instead he launches misleading attacks against the Commission for simply doing its job.
Mussi has every right to oppose Clean Elections, but he should at least be honest about it
If we learned anything from the surprising strength of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, it’s that voters are tired of politics as usual. They want lawmakers to stand up to big money interests.
Instead of letting groups like the Free Enterprise Club and its donors decide who our lawmakers will be, we should strengthen Clean Elections so that candidates with broad community support can have the resources necessary to run and win office, free of the influence of special interest cash.