July 2, 2004
Supporters of Arizona’s campaign public financing system want the courts to stop a proposed initiative that would strip away government funding and cripple the program.
A committee called No Taxpayer Money for Politicians submitted about 270,000 voter signatures last week for a proposed constitutional amendment to stop public funding for statewide and legislative candidates. Election officials are checking a random sample to see if there’s enough valid signatures to qualify for the Nov. 2 ballot.
Voluntary candidate public funding was narrowly approved by voters in 1998 through the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act. The issue was crafted by opponents hoping to capitalize on negative publicity from the 2002 elections.
The Clean Election Institute, a Phoenix-based nonprofit group, filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming the initiative should be rejected as a matter of law. The suit claims a description of the initiative shown to potential signers was an illegally biased argument for the measure. That description, printed at the top of every petition, says in part "this money was spent to fund ‘dirty tricks’ campaigns and hire political cronies."
"There is a time and place for debate," said Chuck Blanchard, the lead attorney representing the institute. "That time and place is not in the description feature of the initiative."
The public funding system gets most of its money from surcharges on parking tickets and other minor offenses. Other sources include a $5 income tax credit, which is matched from the state’s General Fund.
The initiative would forbid the use of government dollars for any election campaign. Blanchard said the measure violates a constitutional requirement to deal with only a single subject by also stripping away funding for the Citizens Clean Election Commission, the state agency that manages the campaign funding system.
Existing law creates other responsibilities for the commission such as sponsoring candidate debates and enforcing some campaign finance laws for all candidates.
Nathan Sproul, campaign manager for No Taxpayer Money for Politicians, said he expects the lawsuit to fail because the initiative and the petition description were reviewed beforehand by attorneys.
"This is a typical tactic of a campaign that is desperate, and unfortunately they have chosen a cynical route to deprive the voters of a real
choice in November," Sproul said.
On the ballot
Voters will face several ballot proposals in November aside from the initiative drives submitted this week on services to illegal immigrants and banning public funding of campaigns — assuming they make the ballot.
Voters will be asked to boost legislative pay by $12,000 a year, to $36,000, the recommendation of a special state commission.
Lawmakers in 2003 and this year also approved several constitutional changes. These must be ratified by voters before they can take effect.
• Requiring initiative petitions to be submitted in early April, three months earlier than now.
• Forcing those who propose new voter-approved spending to identify where the money will come from while permitting lawmakers to trim the spending if there is not enough cash.
• Permitting the state and its universities to go into partnership with private companies to develop and market new inventions.
• Allowing people who are not attorneys to be acting justices of the peace.
• Letting the state swap land with other governments to preserve open space or preserve military bases.
• Changing the membership requirements for the state Board of Education.