The most successful politicians in Arizona are named Benjamin. Benjamins call the shots.Benjamins lay down the law. Benjamins rule.That is -- benjamins. Lower case. As in $100 bills. Or as Sam Wercinski, Executive Director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said recently, "Each time the U.S. Supreme Court further empowers the money over the many, Arizona's legislature seems to respond by weakening existing campaign finance laws further, rather than strengthen those left standing."
They tried to do it again. It's nothing new. Only on Wednesday it didn't work, at least for a little while.
And then it did.
Dirty money in politics is the reason why, in 1998, Arizona voters passed the Citizens Clean Elections Act.
Regular folks got tired of cash corrupting the Capitol and tried to clean things up. Politicians hate the Clean Elections Act, however, perhaps because they hate the idea of clean elections.
So the lawmakers who control the Arizona legislature have been trying to undermine the law since its approval.
The latest attempt was Senate Bill 1344, which would significantly cut into the enforcement authority of the Clean Elections Commission and also make it easier for special interest money to invalidate the needs and concerns of "the many."
In other words, you.
Look at it this way. The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for so-called "dark money" (meaning we don't know where it comes from) to become the driving force in American politics. Arizona lawmakers, which could close and lock that door, are instead setting out a welcome mat.
The Clean Elections Act is in their way. The law allows a candidate to collect a set number of $5 donations in order to qualify for campaign funding through the commission. The money doesn't come from the state's general fund but mostly from court fines.
The act also gives the commission the ability to enforce the campaign finance laws for privately-funded candidates and Clean Elections candidates. In the worst cases a politician can be kicked out of office.
The Republicans who control of the Arizona legislature appear eager to gut the Clean Elections Act and strip the commission of power. So they pushed SB 1344.
Back in 1998, voters saw moves like this coming. That year Arizona citizens also passed the Voter Protection Act, which said the legislature could not amend a voter-approved initiative unless the legislation "furthers the purposes" of the law and is approved by three-quarters of both the House and the Senate.
"A measure like SB1344 does the opposite," said Wercinski.
He pointed out that if the bill passed it would lead to a lawsuit, knowing that doesn't often dissuade lawmakers, who use taxpayer money to fight such suits.
Nearly 5,000 individuals sent messages asking lawmakers to kill the bill.
And this time it worked. The bill failed in the Senate. And then... it was reconsidered, and passed.
"The big money people got to the politicians, again" Wercinski said. Still, he wasn't giving up.
He asked if I would "inform readers that voting and being engaged in the political process really can end in positive results. It's one more reason for independents to weigh in on primary day. Their collective vote and voice matters, just as a non-partisan advocacy group has demonstrated."
If only for a while. But it's not over.
Now, it's up to Gov. Jan Brewer to sign or veto, to side with 'the many' or with 'the money.'
(Column for Apr. 24, 2014, Arizona Republic)