Perhaps no ruling issued by the current U.S. Supreme Court has elicited more opinions on both sides than the Citizens United case.
The ruling allowed unlimited contributions by citizens to the candidates of their choice.
On one side were the free-speech advocates who claimed that citizens were entitled to spend whatever amount they desired to back the candidates of their choice. On the other side were those who worried about the influence unlimited money could buy if the candidate was elected.
The argument hasn’t abated since the decision was rendered Jan. 21, 2010. Even on the local level, where the money isn’t as freely spent, there are two distinctly different viewpoints.
Running for the newly created Legislative District 8, Emily Verdugo opted to participate in the Citizens Clean Elections Act (CCEA). Also running for the seat, Thomas “TJ” Shope will not participate.
The CCEA was passed in Arizona in 1998 “to restore citizen participation and confidence in our political system,” according to the Web site, www.azcleanelections.gov. “The voters wanted to reduce the potentially corrupting influence of money and ‘level the playing field’ for participating candidates by simply giving them enough money to run credible campaigns while preserving the right of traditional candidates and others to raise and spend campaign dollars as they choose.”
Shope, a Republican, chooses to be a “traditional” candidate, one who will raise money in a manner he sees fit. He scoffs at the notion that special interests will influence him.
“That’s not who I am,” he said. “I think the name itself makes it seem like if you don’t use it you are running a dirty (campaign). Nothing could be further from the truth. I chose to run traditional even though I know it is more difficult to do (since you must do all fundraising). It’s a small price to pay to pay to represent people in this district.”
Verdugo, a Democrat, counters by noting, “Historically, most candidates here have run Clean. This is not a political statement. You check the Web site and you will see that more Republicans (573) than Democrats (464) have participated including John Fillmore and Frank Pratt.”
Verdugo lists three reasons why she chooses to participate.
“One, by taking $5 from voters you reassure them you’re accountable to them, not that you have been bought by corporations or special interests,” she said. “Two, by getting $5 and being funded through the Clean Elections system a candidate has more time to actually be talking to voters to hear their concerns rather than worrying about fund raising. Three, the Clean Elections system really has leveled the playing field so that candidates that are not independently wealthy can run for office.”
She points out that the non-partisan Arizona Advocacy Network is fighting to keep the Clean Elections system in place. Onazadocacy.org, Phil Lopes of Tucson, a former state representative, is quoted “We should strengthen Clean Elections with new, stronger, anti-corruption laws, not repeal it.”