A report on “Clean Elections” corruption was made public last week.
This report names candidates in Maine, New York and Arizona who defrauded money from taxpayers using Clean Election laws.
Arizona voters passed the Clean Elections Act in 1998, 51% to 49%, and established government-funded financing for certain candidates as an alternative to traditional fund raising means. Clean elections were intended to cover the cost of eligible campaigns, and to avoid the influence of “special interests”.
On June 27, 2011, in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, the US Supreme Court ruled that “matching funds” (where privately financed political candidates triggered state-matching funds for “Clean Elections opponents” – if the privately financed candidate spent above a threshold) were unconstitutional. The Clean Elections Report made by the Center for Competitive Policies (CCP) accompanied U.S. Supreme Court ruling
The Supreme Court decision found that private speech could be chilled by public mandate.
Besides being unconstitutional, CCP found the Clean Elections finance system has been expertly gamed by candidates, PAC’s, political parties and other interest groups, who have found ways to avoid reporting requirements and spending limits and have used the law to embezzle taxpayer money.
Election “reform” groups were shocked. Common Cause wrote, “The provision (matching funds) struck down by the court actually, increased free speech, helped prevent corruption, and the appearance of corruption, that can accompany private campaign contributions, and did so in a fiscally responsible manner.” (Farrell, 2011)
The statement assumes Clean Elections increased free speech and prevented corruption. The Supreme Court found otherwise. The CCP report details some of the more egregious thefts made under the guise of Clean Elections.
The CCP Report shows how “clean elections” laws:
1) Favor corrupt incumbents against upstart challengers.
2) Exacerbate election fraud and campaign finance corruption.
3) Facilitate the waste of public money on non-serious candidates.
4) Create cumbersome filing requirements for participants and non-participants. (Farrell, 2011)
For example, Sam George, a candidate in 2008, triggered matching funds for candidates, Paul Newman and Sandra Kennedy in a “Solar Team” campaign for three seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission. George was also a consultant to the Clean Election ballot measure. The “Solar Team” website indicated that George “helped write and pass” the Clean Election Act. George’s “Solar Team” coordinated radio and TV spots for the Solar Team and set up a website to raise money. When George spent $250,000 on his own campaign, he triggered nearly $500,000 in “matching funds” for his teammates. (Farrell, 2011)
Arizona has had “Clean Elections” for ten years. Arizona is one of the first US elections systems using taxpayer money to pay comparatively qualified candidates’ campaign expenses – supposedly to exclude special interests.
Lack of publicity for the Supreme Court Decision and the CCP report seems to indicate sympathy for the good intentions of the Clean Elections Act. But the CCP analysis of Clean Elections and matching funds shows how easy access to Government/taxpayer money often smothers good intentions.
Farrell, J. (2011). Center for Competitive Policies. Clean Elections and Scandal. Case studies from Maine, Arizona and New York City. http://www.campaignfreedom.org/doclib/20110923_CleanElectionsScandalCasestudiesfromMaineArizonaNewYorkCity.pdf