Arizona Advocacy Network

Government of, by and for the People

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Clean Elections chief: It's our job to remove candidates who violate the law. Which requires a thorough investigation

The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission recently drew the ire of The Republic editorial board and columnist Doug MacEachern for its vote to authorize an inquiry into whether Tom Horne, a candidate for attorney general, has violated campaign laws.

 Fed up with corruption and wishing to promote participation in politics, Arizona voters enacted the Citizens Clean Elections Act in 1998. The multi-faceted program, which includes education, public financing of state and legislative candidates, and independent enforcement of campaign-finance laws, is vital.

For example, public financing has been used successfully by both Gov. Jan Brewer and former Gov. Janet Napolitano. It has been used by the likes of Senate Majority Leader John McComish and former Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes. The success of these candidates and countless others demonstrates that public financing is a program that yields principled and dynamic leaders for our state.

Clean Elections duties do not end with public financing. Voters expect Clean Elections to enforce campaign-finance laws, which apply to all state and legislative candidates as clearly stated in the act. The Arizona Supreme Court has expressly held that the commission's enforcement duties are "paramount" and "do not relate to" public financing.

OUR VIEW: Horne whitewash is on taxpayers' dime

Senate Bill 1344 does not alter these responsibilities. Before it even passed the Senate, SB 1344 was amended to exclude Article 2, of Chapter 6, Title 16, the very sections of law where the Clean Elections Act resides. Clean Elections has and retains the authority voters granted it, including removing or disqualifying candidates who commit significant campaign-finance violations.

Because it was passed by voters, Clean Elections is protected from legislative meddling by the Arizona Constitution. No bill amending or superseding the Clean Elections can be effective without a three-fourths vote in furtherance of its purpose. No such vote happened here and no one (not employed by the Legislature or the bill's sponsor) seriously contends that if SB 1344 did amend Clean Elections, the bill would further its purpose.

Stripping Clean Elections of its authority to enforce the law is contrary to the Clean Elections Act. Finally, retroactive repeal of penalties requires an explicit statement by the Legislature. None here; strike three.

The commission is an independent multi-party body made up of successful businesspeople and attorneys who hold among them Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Princeton degrees and whose resumes feature military service. The commissioners serve the public, not publicity. Each has sworn to uphold the Constitution and is committed to enforcing Clean Elections.

Their vote last month to institute an inquiry did not and could not presage the outcome of any matter. Responsible enforcement requires investigation and the establishment of facts, as well as a vote by the commission, all subject to administrative and judicial review. The Republic's view puts politics ahead of law and has been rejected by the voters. The commission's obligation is to perform its duties in a fair and deliberate manner.

Thomas M. Collins is executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.