It's ironic that Arizona originally led the nation in a plan to limit campaign money through Clean Elections law, but now is heading in the opposite direction, thanks to the Supreme Court. The Court's 2011 ruling greatly weakened the law, taking a perfectly good referendum passed by Arizona's citizens and watering it down so that non-Clean candidates can receive 10 times more money than Clean Elections candidates.
In 2010, the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling not only allowed corporations to spend freely as a form of protected speech, but also declared they were people. The Citizens United ruling is a travesty comparable to the court's 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford ruling, which denied slaves rights as human beings. In this case, it gave legal entities human rights.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, the Supreme Court handed down the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling. Shaun McCutcheon, CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development, partnered with the RNC's legal staff in the lawsuit. Now he can legally spend up to $3.6 million every two years on individual campaigns.
If he donated to all campaigns in the country and to the limit of Super PAC donations as well, Justice Stephen G. Breyer pointed out in his dissent, McCutcheon could "speak" a total of $40 million during campaign season.
We've seen billionaire speech already: a barrage of deceptive, negative TV smear ads. The Koch brothers poured over $400 million into Super PAC ads in the last election - pennies for privately held Koch Industries, which has billions in assets.
Super PACs have been busy in Arizona since last year, spending more than $1.8 million on TV ads to slam Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, long before she even had an opponent. The speech of Wichita billionaires and others of their ilk are drowning out native Arizonans - and obscuring real issues with blather.
When the Koch brothers talk about freedom, you can be sure they're only talking about the freedom to reap corporate welfare and pollute the lands and waters where their oil and coal companies operate without consequence - while letting the taxpayers finance clean-ups. Their version of liberty is electing representatives who chip away at laws to free them from paying any corporate taxes, while benefiting from ours.
No longer are there backroom deals - bold billionaire donors wait for candidates to kiss the ring publicly, as Sheldon Adelson did recently in Las Vegas. When I posted an April Fool's Day story from The New Yorker with the headline "Sheldon Adelson says no Republican candidate worth buying," most of my Facebook friends thought it was real.
With the McCutcheon ruling, however, we may have finally reached a tipping point. The majority of people polled in both major political parties are against this trend. In 2012, long before the McCutcheon ruling, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 75 percent of Americans though there was too much money in politics. Of the respondents, 76 percent said rich people have more influence. Even Fox News-style propaganda can only persuade a minority of the gullible that this is in their best interest.
While Citizens United spawned dozens of groups to fight for a constitutional amendment to change it - since mere laws would be overturned by the Supreme Court - one local group wants to go way beyond that by changing elections nationally to a completely clean model.
The "Clean by '19" concept seeks to allow only public money to fund elections. The Prescott-based nonprofit group is the nonpartisan brainchild of Jim Pullaro, who spent a year formulating its plan. He believes such reform is the only way to remove the corrupting influence of billionaires and corporations on government.
In the interest of disclosure, I have participated in the formation of Clean by '19 because I think it could be the answer to the "plutonomy" outlined in a secret memo by a Citigroup analyst. (Google it.) Their idea of democracy is similar to that of dictatorships, in which people vote only for the puppets put forward by the plutocrats, and the middle class no longer exists.
Clean by '19 proposes to prove its concept in Arizona first through a series of steps, including a petition drive in support of clean elections for legislative and congressional candidates in the state. The petition says the signers will only support Clean Elections candidates who sign the Candidate Declaration for Democracy, pledging to support federal and Arizona Constitutional Amendments establishing clean elections through public funding. In addition, the declaration includes three-year restrictions on lobbying legislative bodies and taking employment from companies benefiting from their votes.
Pullaro, an Army veteran and retired businessman, says nothing less than the future of the middle class and democracy is at stake in changing the system.
"In polls, the public names jobs as priority one; the donors name profit as priority one," Pullaro said. "Since the government provides tax benefits for sending jobs offshore, it's obvious which priority gets attention."
"With the removal of restrictions on campaign money, the imbalance of influence is only getting worse," Pullaro said. "It's something we can fix."
For more information, or to sign up to volunteer for petition gathering, go to www.CleanBy19.org.
Toni Denis is chairwoman of the Demo-cratic Women of the Prescott Area.