Supreme Court Knocks Clean Elections Off Ballot

By Paul Davenport, Associated Press

The state Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that an initiative to dismantle Arizona's "Clean Elections" system for publicly funding candidates' campaigns be kept off the November ballot.

The justices upheld a trial judge's ruling that Proposition 106, the so-called "No Taxpayer Money for Politicians" initiative, violated the Arizona Constitution's ban on including more than one subject in a proposed constitutional amendment.

Arizona voters approved a system in 1998 that allows public funding for campaigns of candidates for governor, legislative seats and other state offices. It provided funding to candidates in 2000 and 2002.
Initiative supporters had appealed Judge Margaret Downie's order to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court announced its decision in a brief order and said it will issue an opinion later to explain its legal reasoning for its decision.

Opponents argued that the initiative violated the single-subject ban by both prohibiting public funding of candidates and depriving the state agency overseeing the system of funding for its other functions, including voter education and regulating campaign finances.

The opponents' July 1 lawsuit also said the initiative should be kept off the ballot because it used politically charged terms and wasn't impartial. Downie rejected that argument.

Initiative supporters denied that the it violated the single-subject ban. They argued that a separate constitutional provision mandating enforcement of voter-approved laws would require the Legislature to appropriate money for the commission's other functions.

Clean Elections supporters who opposed the initiative hailed the ruling but said they regard it as only one battle in a continuing war.

"The big money special interests will be back," said opposition campaign manager Michelle Davidson. "They still hope to turn back the clock to the days when all candidates had to rely on special interest money."

Nathan Sproul, a spokesman for initiative supporters, said it was unfortunate that the Supreme Court had prevented the issue from reaching voters this year.

"This fight is a long way from being over," Sproul said. "We have every intention that in the not too distant future that ... the voters will have an opportunity to vote on this."

The Supreme Court on Thursday also declined to hear a separate lawsuit filed by initiative opponents challenging the description that would have appeared in the state's official voter publicity pamphlet.

The Secretary of State's Office said Aug. 6 that initiative supporters had filed enough valid voter signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Supporters of the Clean Elections law say public financing reduces the influence special interests gain through traditional campaign funding, while opponents argue that public money shouldn't be used to finance politicians' campaigns.

Traffic and criminal fine surcharges fund most of the campaign system, in which candidates can voluntarily participate.

Participating candidates must collect a set number of $5 contributions from voters to qualify for the public funding. Participating candidates can also receive matching funds if nonparticipating political rivals spend more money.

Through 2002, the system distributed $14.6 million to 198 candidates. In 2002, participants included Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, candidates for the Legislature and all statewide offices.

Maine also has a widely used public campaign financing system, while North Carolina and New Mexico are launching limited versions. Vermont's system is tied up in the courts and Massachusetts abolished its last year.

Initiative supporters said they planned to raise and spend $1 million, including nearly $500,000 already spent for paid petition circulators to collect signatures. Preliminary campaign finance reports indicate the campaign raised numerous $10,000 contributions from developers and other business figures and groups.

The opposition campaign said it planned to raise and spend more than $2 million, much of it coming from national groups. Preliminary reports by a group helping fund the opposition campaign list at least $166,000 in contributions, including $91,000 from the Arizona Advocacy Network, a liberal-oriented activist group.

The Clean Elections system has withstood several court challenges. One attacking the matching funds provision is pending.

See the article on Arizona Republic website

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