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Arizona’s Clean Elections

Arizona’s Clean Elections Option: In the wake of multiple scandals involving elected officeholders and influence money, Arizona voters in 1998 enacted their state’s Clean Elections Act that provides public funding to candidates who agree to accept no money from PACs, corporations or any other special interest. The Act allows candidates running for the state legislature and statewide offices the opportunity to forgo such contributions by collecting a certain number of $5 donations to qualify for a limited amount of public campaign funding. The intent was to open the door for more citizens to run for office and to give voters more of a say in the state’s political process. All state legislative candidates as well as all statewide office candidates are eligible to receive this funding.

Source of Clean Elections Fund:  The source of this Clean Elections includes a voluntary $5 check-off box on Arizona state income tax return forms, a 10% surcharge on all civil penalties and criminal fines (like speeding and parking citations), and the $5 qualifying contributions collected by candidates. Not one dollar from the State general fund is ever touched. In fact, the Clean Elections system has given over $64 million to the state since its inception, money that has gone to pay for public safety, health care and education. It would not have been available if not for Clean Elections.

Impact of Clean Elections Option:  Since the people of Arizona enacted Clean Elections in 1998, hundreds of candidates have been able to run for public office without having to resort to asking lobbyists and political insiders for contributions. In 2000 only 26% of the primary candidates ran using clean elections funding. In 2010 participation was at 49%.  As of 2011 64% of the state’s legislature had used Clean Elections at least once in their careers, most when they ran the very first time. Surveys show that the vast majority of Arizonans think Clean Elections is important, that the system is working because it allows more average citizens to get involved and gives voters more choices.

Matching Funds Provision Struck Down: A provision of the Clean Elections Program called Matching Funds was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States in a 2011 decision. The intent of matching funds had been to further encourage participation by providing publicly funded candidates a limited amount of extra campaign dollars to compete with candidates lavishly funded with private money—the idea being to at least allow voters to hear both sides of an argument. The (slim) majority opinion of the Court was that the matching funds discourage “freedom of speech” by having the effect of discouraging privately-funded candidates and their funders from simply out-spending (buying more speech) than their publicly-funded opponents.  Based on this Supreme Court decision the bill proposing optional public funding on the Federal level (the Fair Elections Now Act) does not include this matching fund component.

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