Buckling to pressure from city and county lobbyists, Arizona lawmakers Tuesday gutted a bill that bars elected officials from spending public money to promote themselves.
A House committee overwhelmingly approved HB1237, but not before adding a provision that kills any effort to control public spending.
"In a perfect world I'd prefer it pass without this amendment," said Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, who authored the proposed legislation. "But I've made no commitment to keeping it on."
The amendment by Rep. John Nelson, R-Glendale, gives elected officials a giant loophole to work with by allowing them to pay for and star in any publicly funded advertisement deemed to be in the public interest.
Still, the state senator is hopeful the proposal would keep officials from spending public funds to plaster their names and likenesses on billboards, booklets and television commercials. He also plans to make some changes before the bill goes to the House floor for a vote.
The practice of spending public money to appear in ads has fallen under intense scrutiny as numerous high-profile officials have popped up in public service campaigns on the public's dime.
Critics of the proposed legislation, which included lobbyists from Avondale, Phoenix and Peoria, as well as the County Supervisors Association, had put pressure on lawmakers to kill the bill. They're worried the proposal would have unintended consequences that could inadvertently limit officials from communicating with their voters.
Phoenix lobbyist Karen Peters had argued it could shut down certain programs on the city's government access television station. Likewise, Todd Madeksza, lobbyist for the County Supervisors Association, said Waring's proposal is too broad. "We think it's a well-intentioned bill, but it goes too far," said Madeksza, whose group represents all county supervisors across the state.
However, it was the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors that came out against County Attorney Andrew Thomas when he paid about $220,000 to print and distribute roughly 600,000 copies of a crime prevention handbook through Valley newspapers.
Supervisor Don Stapley, R-District 2, said he hadn't fully read the bill, but said he agrees with Madeksza in opposing the measure.
He said there was a question over whether the bill infringes on free speech.
"I think it doesn't pass the constitutionality test," he said. "Bills like this are borderline ludicrous."
While Waring wasn't completely satisfied with the outcome, he said it was a small victory as other attempts to pass similar legislation in the Senate had failed. Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, has refused to hear it in his committee.