A Senate panel voted Monday to effectively kill public financing of elections — but not entirely.
SCR 1043 would ask voters in November if they want to divert the money now collected in fines to pay for campaigns instead to public education. The 4-3 vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee sends the measure to the full Senate.
If approved, it would technically leave the Citizens Clean Elections Act approved by voters in 1998 in place. But it would leave no money for candidates in the 2012 election.
Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, conceded it is his intent to kill public financing. And Gray said he would prefer simply asking voters to repeal the law.
But Gray said he has run into opposition from some of his Republican colleagues who prefer a less direct approach.
That includes Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, a foe of public financing, who conceded that he fears the public, confronted with a measure that asks to repeal the “Clean Elections” system, would not see it the way he does.
This bill, said Paton, gets around that political problem. More to the point, it offers a carrot to convince voters to go along.
“It has an excellent chance of passing,” he said. Paton said the measure provides voters with the choice of “funding junk mail and yard signs or funding our classrooms.”
The system allows candidates for statewide or legislative office to get a set amount of public dollars for their race if they don’t take outside cash from special interests. Most of the funds come from a 10 percent surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.
Last budget year those fines amounted to nearly $10.6 million.
Altering the measure to eliminate the up-or-down choice of retaining public financing gained the support of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “It will give the voters a choice to say if whether publicly funded elections is more important than education,” said lobbyist Marc Osborn.
The chamber, however, is not a disinterested party. It attempted to convince voters to defeat the plan in 1998 and, when that failed, mounted lawsuits designed to kill it. They were all unsuccessful.