Arizona Advocacy Network

Government of, by and for the People

Link to article

Special Interests Win, We Lose (Again)

The official constitution for the state of Arizona includes a preamble, 30 “articles,” a big bunch of “sections” and all kinds of legal gobbledygook, but I could not find a single reference proclaiming the law of the land simply as: “Money talks.”Still, it must be in there. During the last legislative session Arizona lawmakers passed a bill that makes campaign cash more important than voters, and late Tuesday the state Supreme Court said it was ok for that law to go into effect, a law that not only says money talks but that money shouts.That money rules! While voters? Not so much.

The court lifted an appeals court injunction against HB2593, which raises campaign-contribution limits roughly eight-fold for a candidate in a statewide race and also significantly raises the cap for super PACs. The Republican lawmakers who pushed the legislation through say the higher limits are necessary to offset the large amounts of money now coming into elections by way of independent expenditure groups. This would be the so-called “dark money” groups that, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, have no monetary limits and no responsibility – at least in this state – to identify exactly where the cash comes from.

Of course, the Arizona Legislature could have spent its time crafting ways to require such groups to disclose where the money is coming from. Instead, they opted to add even more cash to an election process already corrupted by cash.The Citizens Clean Elections Commission, the Arizona Advocacy Network and others filed a lawsuit challenging the law and the state appeals court sided with them, granting an injunction. The Supreme Court reversed that decision.

“We felt that filing the lawsuit was the proper course of action,” said the commission’s executive director Thomas Collins. “We felt that the will of the voters, as expressed in the law that created Clean Elections, is clear about this.”Arizona citizens passed a measure that says no changes can be made to a voter-passed law without another statewide vote or the OK of three-quarters of the Legislature.

HB 2593 was passed along party lines, Republicans in favor, Democrats against. But it passed without a three-quarters majority. And the voters have not done a thing to change Clean Elections.Still, the state Supreme Court sided with the politicians.

“Realistically, we understand what this means,” Collins said. And it’s not good.

The voters of Arizona, who already have been shouted down by big money interests, now will be silenced. While politicians can put out their “for sales” signs.

Sam Wercinski, Executive Director of Arizona Advocacy Network, put it this way, “Every time the voters take control of campaign finance laws in Arizona the legislature and the wealthy special interest groups find a way to undermine that effort.”Clean Elections directory Collins added, “I suppose there are cycles with these things. When the Clean Elections Act passed the memory of AzSCAM (a sting operation in which state politicians were caught taking bribes) was still on the minds of voters. It was clear to them that large campaign contributions have a corrupting effect on the process. That is why they wanted to have these limitations in place.”

Wercinski believes citizens may have to go back to the ballot with a new initiative to, as he says, “reduce the corrupting impact” of money and tighten regulations for politicians regarding ethics and conflicts of interest. Either in 2014 or 2016.

The Clean Elections Commission is not out of the picture, either. The group has been working to improve reporting requirements when it comes to independent expenditures, pointing to already existing state law in a booklet the commission has produced called “Independent Expenditure Campaign Finance Handbook.”

“We’re hoping this is something all candidates will pay very close attention to,” Collins said. “We need to encourage as much transparency as possible. Voters need as much information about candidates and their campaigns as they can get in order to make good decisions.”

The big-money interests are more pragmatic, preferring to follow a tried-and-true business adage: You get what you pay for.