Arizona Advocacy Network

Government of, by and for the People

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Sam Wercinski: When politicians cheat, it's important to know that there are consequences. That's what this act does.

Another election is upon us and with it, attacks on the Citizens' Clean Elections Act. Constantin Querard's Oct. 2 op-ed, "Why Clean Elections' days are numbered" makes several claims to mislead readers and distract them from the viability and effectiveness of Arizona's strongest anti-corruption law.

Clean Elections was a reaction from Arizonans outraged by political scandal and officials selling out to powerful groups and donors. In addition to Clean Elections, reform-minded voters created the Independent Redistricting Commission to reduce partisan gerrymandering and passed the Voter Protection Act to prevent politicians from overturning voter-approved laws.

These citizens' initiatives demonstrate Arizonans desire for competitive elections and accountability to voters.

A short history lesson explains why Clean Elections remains popular and why Arizonans can be expected to strengthen this law if lawmakers do not. In 1991, the nation witnessed nearly 10 percent of Arizona legislators indicted on corruption charges in AzScam.

Since AzScam, new political corruption surfaced: The Fiesta Bowl money laundering scandal, Attorney General Tom Horne's campaign shenanigans, and big money groups who hand out freebies to legislators in exchange for influence over policymaking.

Because lawmakers failed to enact any serious reforms after AzScam, voters approved Clean Elections to increase transparency, reduce special interests' influence and empower voters. With Clean Elections' public campaign-finance system, wealthy individuals and groups no longer controlled who received campaign cash and was elected.

The expensive system of private campaign funding plays a dominant role in today's quid pro quo politics, policymaking and profiteering. Voters aren't blind to this, just as they weren't in 1998 when they passed Clean Elections

Clean Elections worked increasingly well for candidates and voters of all ideologies until a "dark money" group and a corporate-backed lawmaker challenged the matching funds provision.

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against voters and for the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and Sen. John McComish. In their decision, justices affirmed that Clean Elections does help to fight political corruption, a fact that opponents avoid while trying to dismantle it further.

When politicians cheat, it's important to know that there are consequences that only Clean Elections can enforce. Two state representatives have been removed from office for serious Clean Elections campaign-finance violations, and outgoing AG Horne faced removal under Clean Elections as a privately funded candidate due to the severity of his violations.

Most recently, Corporation Commission candidates Tom Forese and Doug Little were investigated by the Clean Elections Commission for cheating. After evidence was compiled, they admitted their guilt and agreed to pay a fine. While it is disappointing that Forese and Little violated their pledge to abide by stricter rules as "clean" candidates, the swift action by the commission demonstrates why the act remains vital to keeping politicians accountable to voters.

Arguments that Clean Elections no longer appeals to prospective candidates are also untrue. An equal number of candidates qualified for Clean Elections this year as in 2012, despite the nearly 10-fold increase in contribution amounts Republican lawmakers passed for privately funded candidates and the surge in dark money use.

The Clean Elections Act was passed to "restore citizen participation and confidence in our political system." Arizonans may need to strengthen the law at the ballot box with new provisions such as a gift ban, exposing dark money with real-time disclosure, and a voter-centric supplemental funding option for "clean" candidates.

Arizona Advocacy Network and citizens are ready to accomplish this goal.

Sam Wercinski is the Executive Director of Arizona Advocacy Network.

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Sam Wercinski is Executive Director of Arizona Advocacy Network.