The Citizens Clean Election Commission has a delicate but critical task later this month when it must decide whether to investigate Gov. Janet Napolitano for a possible misstep when she launched her re-election campaign March 1.
Anyone who wants to be a candidate must first file a “statement of organization,” essentially a declaration of intent to run. Under state law, candidates must make this statement before they raise money, enter into any spending agreements or begin collecting voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.
But on the same day that Napolitano filed her statement, an official campaign Web site appeared. Within three days, a campaign video featuring Napolitano also was posted to the site and thousands of e-mails were sent to voters requesting $5 donations so she could run again with public funding. All of this activity was coordinated by political operative Max Fose.
The state Republican Party filed a complaint with the Clean Elections commission that claims Napolitano must have reached some kind of an agreement with Fose before she legally was a candidate.
Napolitano’s attorney, Andrew Gordon, formally responded that Fose and Napolitano had some preliminary talks, but the governor’s campaign owed Fose nothing until a contract was signed March 15.
We’d like to give the benefit of the doubt to our governor and former state attorney general. But this situation appears suspicious to us. Political consultants don’t stay in business very long when they take public steps on behalf of candidates — such as launching Web sites and sending out e-mails — before they have a promise of payment. And Fose is an experienced operative best known for his work with Sen. John McCain.
The image of the Clean Elections commission has been in tatters since its poorly handled investigation of Republican Matt Salmon, who lost the 2002 governor’s race to Napolitano. She became the first U.S. governor elected with a campaign funded by tax dollars.
Since then, the commission practically has become a new agency with the replacement of four of five board members, its executive director and nearly all of its other staff. This commission could start building a reputation for fair and impartial enforcement of the law by taking a close look at what the governor did, or by providing a compelling explanation as to why an investigation isn’t justified.