By Paul Davenport
A proposed ballot measure to effectively dismantle Arizona's system that provides public money for candidates' state election campaigns would itself be scrapped under a compromise between supporters and opponents of the program.
The state Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to legislation that would eliminate one of the system's funding sources and bar spending to promote it, which were changes sought by critics.
In return, a resolution for a ballot measure to bar use of public money for candidates' campaigns doesn't go to voters.
"I don't' think either side thought it was in anybody's interest to go to war," said John Loredo, a lobbyist for the Arizona Advocacy Network.
The network supports the Clean Elections system, while opponents include the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Goldwater Institute.
Arizona voters narrowly approved creation of the Clean Elections system in 1998. Candidates voluntarily participating in the program receive funding after submitting set numbers of $5 qualifying contributions from voters.
Proponents contend that public campaign funding reduces the influence of special interests in elections and government. Critics dispute that and say public money shouldn't be used for campaigns.
Sen. John McComish, a Phoenix Republican proposing the new legislation and the sponsor of the push to put a repeal question on the November ballot, said approval of referendum was never a certainty.
"What is guaranteed is that both sides spend a lot of money," McComish said.
Todd Lang, executive director of the commission that oversees the campaign funding system, said money from court surcharges provide enough of a funding cushion to absorb the loss of the income-tax check-off money.
McComish's legislation would bar the commission from spending money to "promote the benefits" of public funding.
But McComish said the publicity restrictions would allow the commission to promote candidate debates that it sponsors and to publish a candidate pamphlet.
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