Republican legislative leaders are making one last push Wednesday to get voters to repeal public financing of elections.
The House Judiciary Committee will consider a measure to put the issue on the November ballot.
This time, though, House Majority Leader John McComish said the plan is to be more straightforward than earlier approaches — that failed to get even many of the Republican to go along. It will ask voters a straight yes-or-no question: Do you want to continue the system you approved in 1998?
That differs significantly from two earlier efforts.
The system allows — but does not require — candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public dollars if they agree not to take cash from other sources. Backers contend that frees candidates from being beholden to special interests.
To qualify, candidates must get a set number of $5 donations, a hurdle put in to ensure there is some level of public support.
The measure passed despite stiff opposition from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. And chamber efforts to have the new law declared unconstitutional were all rejected.
But there is evidence politics and special interests still play a role, with lobbyists for various groups helping candidates gather their $5 donations.
Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, one of the proponents of a repeal, thinks voters have seen enough.
“I’ve always thought it was a system that thwarts the free enterprise system,” said Gray, who always has run with private donations. “We are a free market, a free society, and we ought to be able to get funding for our ideas based on their marketability. Clean Elections interjects government into that and basically pays people for their ideas they couldn’t sell on the open market.”
Tucson Republican Jonathan Paton tried earlier this year, before he quit the Senate to run for Congress, to get colleagues to adopt a measure that technically would have left the Citizens Clean Elections Act intact. Instead, it sought a constitutional amendment prohibiting public funds for political campaigns, effectively neutering the program without repealing it.
Paton conceded the move was political: He said it would be easier to sell the idea of banning what he called “welfare for politicians” than convincing voters to repeal “clean” elections.
When that failed, a backup plan was hatched to ask voters to repeal Clean Elections — but let the state keep the major source of funds: a 10 percent surcharge on civil, traffic and criminal fines. That, too, proved to be a non-starter.
McComish, R-Phoenix, a long-time foe of public financing, said this new bill may have the best chance of getting legislative approval.
McComish acknowledged, though, many Republican lawmakers now accept public funding for their campaigns. At the same time, he said, the recession has dried up some sources of private dollars, putting further pressure on lawmakers to take the public dollars.
“Some of them run ‘clean’ because it’s the best option for them,” McComish said. But he said some of those who do take public dollars would prefer that not be an option for anyone.
The measure is set to be considered Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.