Here’s the Arizona “Clean Elections” law in action. Less than two weeks before Tuesday’s primary, some Republican voters (we don’t know how many) received a phone call from people acting as political pollsters (we don’t know their identity or who paid them) and asking questions about the two leading GOP candidates for governor. Three of the questions, containing some incorrect information, were slanted against Len Munsil.
Munsil and others decried the calls as a push poll, which is a campaign tactic to “push” voters into disliking a candidate. Push polls are legal, but polling experts consider them to be unethical because voters are unfairly influenced by what appear to be factual questions from an independent, credible party.
Munsil’s opponents claimed no involvement, so Munsil argued this was an independent expenditure that entitled him to more public campaign funding. He asked for $239,000, the estimated cost of making a phone call to every Republican voter in Arizona.
A responsible government agency would have made some effort to discover how many calls were actually made and who was behind them. But this would have delayed getting the money to Munsil. So on Sept. 7, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission just picked a number — $80,000 — and issued a check.
Beyond this rather cavalier spending of tax money, there’s a fundamental error in the state’s assumption that this was a push poll at all. Many candidates and political action committees use slanted questions about themselves and their opponents to test potential campaign slogans and themes. Munsil himself admits to such message testing.
We already have proof the Clean Elections commission easily confuses push polls and message testing. At the same Sept. 7 meeting, the agency said Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, should return nearly $8,000 awarded in August because of anonymous phone calls in his district. It turns out the phone calls were from a new independent expenditure group conducting message research, and they reached far fewer voters than presumed.
Surprise! Downing already had spent all but $600 in his bid for the state Senate, and commission executive director Todd Lang said the state couldn’t reasonably expect Downing to dig into his own pocket to repay the taxpayers.
Munsil’s and Downing’s opponents had every right to be upset by these arbitrary, uninformed and rushed decisions that could swing close elections. In fact, every Arizona voter and taxpayer should be disgusted by this.