Clean Elections: Arizona’s Campaign Finance Reform
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TED ROBBINS: Matt Salmon is a politician who raises money the old-fashioned way, he asks for it.
MATT SALMON: That’s why you’re here today. You voluntarily came, to contribute to my campaign.
TED ROBBINS: Salmon is the Republican candidate for governor of Arizona. A former Congressman, he is running a traditional campaign, holding on average one fundraiser every other evening.
TED ROBBINS: This one at a phoenix home is with Sportsman for Salmon, a hunting and fishing group.
SPOKESMAN: Are you a member of the NRA?
SPOKESMAN: I am. I am.
TED ROBBINS: Salmon’s opponent, Janet Napolitano, spends no time fundraising, just campaigning.
JANET NAPOLITANO: What do you think are the key challenges you’re confronting right now, and how can the governor help?
TED ROBBINS: This is a meeting with school superintendents from around the state. Napolitano is the Democratic candidate for governor, and the state’s current attorney general. She is running under Arizona’s clean election law.
Once candidates choose to run so-called “clean” campaigns, they are forbidden from fundraising. Arizona’s voters passed the Citizens Clean Elections Act four years ago, following a decade of political scandal, including one governor who was impeached, and another who resigned following a felony fraud conviction. Arizona is one of four states with clean elections laws; more than 30 states and cities are considering them. The law’s intent seems simple, to lessen the influence on candidates of big money and special interest by publicly funding campaigns. But so-called clean elections candidates still need to find donors to qualify; small donors, and lots of them.
JANET NAPOLITANO: The bookkeeping: You’re collecting $4,000 five dollar contributions. You have a form in triplicate…
TED ROBBINS: A candidate for governor must collect 4,000 contributions of five dollars each, and submit this form for each one.
JANET NAPOLITANO: The overwhelming majority of our five dollar contributions came from two sources: One is people who had given to me in the past, and I wrote all of my previous donors and asked if they could give five dollars and fill out the form; and the second was a series of house parties all around Arizona, but that’s also a way to start campaigning and getting your message out.
TED ROBBINS: Napolitano says running this clean campaign has been easier than her previous one.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, I campaign… when I ran for attorney general the old-fashioned way, where you basically spend two-thirds of your time raising money. And I will tell you, now I get to spend my time out actually talking with voters, as opposed to raising money. It’s just is a different dynamic altogether.
TED ROBBINS: Matt Salmon also spends plenty of time with voters. Here he attends a candidate forum for business owners.
MATT SALMON: I will not raise taxes.
TED ROBBINS: Salmon says he chose to run a traditional campaign because he opposes the principle of public campaign funding.
MATT SALMON: The reason that I decided not to take… to participate in this government giveaway of tax dollars for campaigning, was really because I believe that it’s unconstitutional for a taxpayer to fund political speech they disagree with.
TED ROBBINS: The Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled that the Clean Elections Act is constitutional. The court said taxpayers frequently pay for speech they may not agree with. Taxpayers pay all state legislators’ salaries, for instance, regardless of whom they voted for. Here’s where money for Arizona’s clean elections comes from: A voluntary check-off on the state income tax form, and a 10% surcharge on criminal and civil fines, largely traffic tickets, which account for about two- thirds of the funding. And here’s how the money is distributed: For the governor’s race, so-called “clean candidates” get a maximum of $1.8 million. The first $600,000 comes right off the bat. The rest of the money is matched dollar for dollar if, and when, a traditionally-funded opponent raises more than the $600,000 threshold. In the last month of the campaign, traditional candidates must report contributions daily.
SPOKESPERSON: Great, that’s it. We will target for this event.
SPOKESMAN: We thank you for being here and supporting our campaign for Arizona’s future.
TED ROBBINS: When President Bush came to phoenix to campaign for matt salmon at a $700-a-plate fundraiser, Salmon passed the threshold, and Napolitano got matching funds.
JANET NAPOLITANO: I was very grateful the President came to campaign for Matt. ( Laughter ) in fact, I told Matt, I said, “let me sell tickets, come on,” you know, “this is great.”
TED ROBBINS: Salmon grouses that Napolitano got more public money just because he raised more private money.
MATT SALMON: We raised several hundred thousand dollars but had to subtract from that the cost of the invitations, the cost of the dinners that we paid for. So if we make several hundred thousand, but we have to pay $50,000 in expenses, my opponents get that extra $50,000 as well, and I just don’t see the fairness in that.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Matt chose to run the old- fashioned way, and raise money primarily from special interest. And that was his choice. Everybody knew the rules going into this election cycle. We made our choice; I’m happy with it.
TED ROBBINS: But in the long run, Salmon can raise and spend as much money as he wants. Campaign aides say they hope to raise at least $2 million.
SPOKESPERSON: Present attorney general Janet Napolitano…
JANET NAPOLITANO: Hey, Burt. How are you?
TED ROBBINS: Napolitano is limited to running her campaign on the $1.8 million public money maximum.
COMMERCIAL: It’s time for new leadership and honest change in Arizona.
TED ROBBINS: So far, both major party candidates have had ample funds for costly TV ads.
COMMERCIAL: …Arizona is losing jobs. In Congress, I cut wasteful spending, apply for middle- class tax relief, help pass a balanced budget.
COMMERCIAL: There is a difference. As our attorney general, Janet Napolitano, took on Qwest to stop the fraudulent billing of Arizona customers. But Matt Salmon was a paid lobbyist for Qwest– even while running for governor.
TED ROBBINS: he clean elections law regulates only funding, not speech, so Napolitano can run ads, like this one, attacking her opponent. The real question may be whether the law is accomplishing its goal, whether it reduces the influence of special interests and big money in government.
SPOKESPERSON: Right, right.
TED ROBBINS: Darcy Olson says it doesn’t. She heads the conservative Goldwater Institute, based in Phoenix. The institute studied the effect of the clean elections law on legislative voting records.
DARCY OLSEN, Goldwater Institute: You can predict along party lines whether they vote for the legislature favored by the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association or any number of these groups, but it is the party ideology, which is correlated to that, and there is no relationship at all to how they finance their campaigns.
SPOKESPERSON: What’s the group that you’re meeting with tomorrow in California?
TED ROBBINS: Cecelia Martinez heads the Clean Elections Institute, a group that advocates for the law. Martinez says legislators who won using public funds tell her the law does have an effect.
CECELIA MARTINEZ, Clean Elections Institute: And I heard from one candidate who said to me, “you know, one of my colleagues has a debt of $10,000,” and a lobbyist said, “I can get rid of that debt in one night.” And, you know, there is no way that a person, even the best person in the world, can’t somehow feel indebted to a lobbyist who says, “I’ll take care of your debt in one night.”
TED ROBBINS: Arizona’s had only one previous election under the Clean Elections Act, and none for statewide offices before this year. So the law’s long-term influence is still hard to judge. In the short run, Matt Salmon keeps collecting checks, knowing Janet Napolitano is keeping pace with public money, but hoping he can raise more than her limit. And money could make the difference.
SPOKESPERSON: I’m on your team.
TEDD ROBBINS: Most polls say the race is still a tossup.