The Daily Courier: Column - Keep the Will of the People in Clean Elections

By Toni Denis, Courier Columnist

Whenever a new year begins, I'm always optimistic that good things will happen in government, our elected officials will do their best to represent us and that the sun will come up tomorrow.

One out of three isn't very good.

Meet the new Republican regime, same as the old Republican regime. It's hard to keep a positive outlook when I learn that "helping" education means cutting it to the bone - $75 million out of what has been an excellent state university system in the past. Keeping standards high is about as likely as the K-12 system regaining all the money axed out of its budgets over the past eight years.

Let's face it, other than transferring millions more to the poorly regulated charter schools through a new scheme to boost their numbers, the only reason Gov. Doug Ducey hasn't whacked the heck out of the K-12 budget - the easy target in trying to reduce the state's monumental deficit - is because his hands are tied. The courts are standing up for the people for a change, requiring the state to pay out at least some of the money it illegally withheld by ignoring the referendum passed to increase school funding more than a decade ago.

That hasn't stopped Ducey from proposing yet another sweet deal for the private prison corporation - to the tune of $100 million. The governor's priorities appear to be to reward supporters of his campaign, in which more than $6 million in dark money from outside of Arizona made up most of his funds.

Worst of all, our own state representatives, state Rep. Karen Fann and state Sen. Steve Pierce, are two of three representatives in each house sponsoring bills to gut the Clean Elections law.

Last week, the Republican bills were introduced in committees with the stated intent of stripping away Clean Elections funding and putting it into the education budget - selling the voters a bill of rotten goods and again subverting the will of the people who passed the referendum. It's a sneaky, cynical "solution" to the years of defunding education in this state by now defunding democracy.

Arizona was once a leader in taking the corrupting influence of money out of elections. In 1998, Arizona voters passed the Clean Elections referendum to provide public funding of elections for candidates who collected signatures and $5 donations showing public support. Then in 2002, U.S. Sen. John McCain joined with Sen. Russ Feingold in a bi-partisan bill to limit campaign funding by parties and corporations in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizen's United ruling, most of that law was overturned and the system is as corrupt as ever.
So now Arizona's elected officials, who took two grand steps forward with those actions, are now attempting to take 10 steps backward.

Maybe the legislature needs a little reminder of why Clean Elections was passed in the first place. Back in 1988, Governor Mecham was impeached for mis-using public money and not disclosing a campaign loan. In 1991, 10 percent of the state legislature was indicted on corruption charges in the AzScam scandal. The Citizens Clean Elections Commission also investigated former Attorney General Tom Horne for his illegal election activities.
It already feels like our elected offices are being sold to the highest bidder, typically the Koch Brothers, who were among Dark Money Ducey's backers, too - he met in secret with them during the election season. To take away this last shred of possibility for a candidate who doesn't want to sell out to campaign funders by eliminating this voter-passed alternative is just too much.

I challenge everyone who cares about democracy to oppose this bill. Call your representatives, send them emails and post your comments on the bill in the statehouse. You can reach Gov. Ducey at 602-542-4331. State Sen. Steve Pierce can be reached at 602-926-5584. His email is The Senate committee bill is SCR1001. Rep. Karen Fann's office is 602-926-5874; her email is The House bill is HCR2004.

One of Gov. Ducey's first acts in office was to remove the log that showed who visited him. He reinstated it after a public outcry. His concern about how his visitors looked to the public was probably valid - I can only imagine how much time the private prison people spent in his office, since there's no record of it. Maybe he does care some about what voters think.

Don't let anyone tell you this attack on Clean Elections funding is about education - it's not. It's part of a well-planned strategy to give billionaire Republicans every advantage in elections, just like the voter suppression bills.

The corrupting influence of corporations and billionaires over our country is the most important issue of our time, because it takes the democratic process away from the people by making corporate dollars "speech." This means the corporate masters have an outsized influence in elections and afterwards, often to the detriment of the people. That's why they're able to ship jobs overseas without any penalty, to enjoy hundreds of millions in government tax breaks and subsidies and to keep wages low by opposing minimum wage increases and worker protections. Now they're going after Social Security and Medicare, too.

If you want Arizona to move forward again, oppose this preposterous attack on Clean Elections.

Toni Denis is a freelance journalist, a Prescott resident and chairwoman of the Democratic Women of the Prescott Area.

The original article is available here.