The Clean Elections Commission has just presided over and funded the dirtiest political season in recent memory, and now the lawsuits are flying.
The ironies don't stop there. Matt Salmon, the only candidate for governor who refused to use taxpayers' money to fund his campaign, has been slapped by the commission with a $10,000 fine — but only after a round of dirty politics within the commission itself that left a deputy director out on the street.
To his credit, Salmon is standing up to the commission. After losing by a narrow margin to Janet Napolitano, Salmon probably would just as soon get on with his life: Pay the $10,000 and be on his way.
Instead, Salmon has filed a $3.2 million civil rights lawsuit against the commission — and we hope he wins. Given its thicket of political regulations and all the back-stabbing that led up to the commission's attempt to punish Salmon, his odds look better than even to win.
His first defense witness likely will be former Clean Elections deputy director Matt Schaffer, who had looked into a complaint by the state elections director regarding Salmon's accounting methods during the campaign. Salmon had been reporting expenses as bills were paid, rather than when services or products were ordered. That resulted in some minor delays in commission payments to Salmon's competitors, Schaffer determined, but he signed off on Salmon's “cash” accounting method, and so did the commission.
The elections director, Jessica Funkhouser, wasn't satisfied, claiming Salmon's accounting violated state law. Oh, did we mention that Funkhouser was working at the time for Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, who was running against Salmon in the GOP primary?
Anyway, the commission's executive director, Colleen Connor, subsequently reversed Schaffer's decision on Salmon's accounting and then sacked Schaffer. The Arizona Capitol Times reported last week that Schaffer is considering filing a “whistleblower” lawsuit against the commission.
Now, given all this and other behind-the-scenes maneuvering that Salmon surely will uncover, jurors might not be too keen on further persecuting a candidate who raised his campaign money from private sources instead of waiting for the state to write him checks.
Meanwhile, there is a worthy effort afoot to put an initiative on the 2004 ballot to abolish the Clean Elections Commission. We'd like nothing better.
Our only regret would be that we'd miss all the fascinating stories about the dirty politics generated by the “Clean Elections” system.