Politicians looking out for #1

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Rep. J.D. Mesnard got what he wanted before the Arizona legislature went sine die early this morning.

His earlier campaign finance limit law increasing contribution limits was interpreted by the Secretary of State to require separate campaign committees for primary and general elections, and separate accounting. It also disallowed transferring funds between these accounts. Mesnard needed an emergency clause for his “fix” to to the law to take effect upon the governor’s signature.

In the end, politicians look out for #1: HB 2665 (.pdf) passed the Senate on a 22-6-3 vote, and passed the House 52-5-3. The Senate version of the bill, in which the House concurred, contained an emergency provision, and two-thirds of each chamber voted for the bill. The bill also has a retroactivity clause.

After the bill is signed by the Governor, a candidate will only have to designate a single campaign committee that applies to both the primary and general election. A candidate’s campaign committee may transfer or contribute monies in the aggregate from one committee to another, if both committees have been designated for an election in the same year, including to a committee for another office or in another jurisdiction.

The bill permits unexpended or unencumbered primary election contributions to be combined with general election contributions, in the event that a candidate prevailed in the primary election. And it permits all contributions to be combined for use in a subsequent election after the general election.

The Arizona legislature also opened the door to supposedly independent “dark money” organizations coordinating with campaign committees. The Senate first killed, then reconsidered, then passed SB 1344 (.pdf) , which will remove jurisdiction and authority of the Clean Elections Commission to enforce campaign violations against candidates who run traditional using private financing. The Arizona Republic reports:

Lawmakers amended the bill to accommodate a request from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce to loosen a requirement that blocked anyone connected with an independent-expenditure committee from participating in a candidate’s campaign. The exemption would apply if the staffer had no involvement with decisions made by the IE.

Opponents argued the bill reduced oversight of campaign activities and could allow more influence from big-money interests.

Republic columnist E.J. Montini writes, Lawmakers choose “the money over the many” — again:

Sam Wercinski, Executive Director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said recently, “Each time the U.S. Supreme Court further empowers the money over the many, Arizona’s legislature seems to respond by weakening existing campaign finance laws further, rather than strengthen those left standing.”

They tried to do it again. It’s nothing new. Only on Wednesday it didn’t work, at least for a little while.

And then it did.

Dirty money in politics is the reason why, in 1998, Arizona voters passed the Citizens Clean Elections Act.

Regular folks got tired of cash corrupting the Capitol and tried to clean things up. Politicians hate the Clean Elections Act, however, perhaps because they hate the idea of clean elections.

So the lawmakers who control the Arizona legislature have been trying to undermine the law since its approval.

The latest attempt was Senate Bill 1344, which would significantly cut into the enforcement authority of the Clean Elections Commission and also make it easier for special interest money to invalidate the needs and concerns of “the many.”

In other words, you.

Look at it this way. The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for so-called “dark money” (meaning we don’t know where it comes from) to become the driving force in American politics. Arizona lawmakers, which could close and lock that door, are instead setting out a welcome mat.

The Clean Elections Act is in their way. The law allows a candidate to collect a set number of $5 donations in order to qualify for campaign funding through the commission. The money doesn’t come from the state’s general fund but mostly from court fines.

The act also gives the commission the ability to enforce the campaign finance laws for privately-funded candidates and Clean Elections candidates. In the worst cases a politician can be kicked out of office.

The Republicans who control of the Arizona legislature appear eager to gut the Clean Elections Act and strip the commission of power. So they pushed SB 1344.

Back in 1998, voters saw moves like this coming. That year Arizona citizens also passed the Voter Protection Act, which said the legislature could not amend a voter-approved initiative unless the legislation “furthers the purposes” of the law and is approved by three-quarters of both the House and the Senate.

“A measure like SB1344 does the opposite,” said Wercinski.

He pointed out that if the bill passed it would lead to a lawsuit, knowing that doesn’t often dissuade lawmakers, who use taxpayer money to fight such suits.

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Now, it’s up to Gov. Jan Brewer to sign or veto, to side with ‘the many’ or with ‘the money.’

I can’t see Brewer not signing this bill. It will be followed by lawsuits as Sm Wercinski said.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.

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