State senators voted Monday to ask voters to wipe out the Clean Elections system they approved 12 years ago - but without actually killing the program. The measure approved on a 16-12 vote would constitutionally prohibit public dollars from being used to finance the campaigns of candidates for office.
But SCR1009, which now goes to the House, makes no mention of the "Citizens Clean Elections Act." And Jonathan Paton, who resigned from the Senate a week ago to run for Congress, said he deliberately crafted it that way in a bid to convince voters to go along.
That approach drew criticism from Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix.
"I'm not a big fan of Clean Elections," he said. "But let's honestly put it up for a vote by the people of Arizona whether they want to continue this program or not."
Candidates for statewide or legislative office can get public financing for their campaigns if they agree not to take money from outside sources.
The plan was approved by voters in 1998 despite opposition from various business groups. Changing it requires taking the issue back to the ballot.
Paton, a Republican who represented parts of Tucson and southeast Arizona before quitting, said his goal of getting rid of public funding "gets clouded with the fact that it's called Clean Elections."
"They have an entire branding and marketing campaign," he said, financed with the money they get from those fines as well as donations. "They spend taxpayer dollars to promote this so it can never be eliminated."
Under the terms of Paton's legislation, the proposal that would go before voters in November would make no mention of "Clean Elections." But if the ban on public funding in SCR1009 is approved by voters, the central purpose of the law would disappear.
Paton said other functions of the commission that now administers the program would remain, like setting up debates.
But that could become meaningless: The law requires only those candidates who get public dollars to participate. With no such funding, candidates would be free to ignore the debates.
"It's just not an honest approach," Cheuvront said.
As approved, SCR1009 does not spell out where the revenues from the fines would go. But Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, is pushing a separate ballot measure to have the cash redirected for education needs.
These have to be separate ballot questions because the Arizona Constitution limits the number of subjects that can be in a single proposal sent to voters.