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Arizona Politics,

Where Cash Is King

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Lawmakers, Elections Officials, And Analysts Discuss The Notion Of Money As A Form Of Political Speech And Its Effects On Voter Power And Candidate Ballot Access

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“We believe a bill similar to the one Rep. Boyer introduced last legislative session is an ill-conceived and misleading attempt to repeal Clean Elections, a program that continues to be popular among the Arizonans who put the Clean Elections Act in place,” Ruiz said. “Voters appreciate the opportunity to run for office that is provided through the Clean Elections, the voter education functions of the commission, and the enforcement and accountability mechanisms that were established back in 1998.”

Many think Clean Elections is just about campaign finance, Ruiz said, but it does also provide voter education, information about judicial issues, and ballot measures. For example, the commission wants to provide funding to counties throughout the state, on a matching scale, in order to buy new voting equipment which is due for replacement, Ruiz said.

In December, the Clean Elections Commission approved their legislative principles and priorities for the 2014 legislative session. Interest has been expressed by legislators and constituents about enhancing the organization's voter education efforts, and on Jan. 30 during one of its regular public meetings, a number of these concepts were adopted into its agenda of legislative principles and priorities.

The items approved by the commission that will be proposed as legislation during the current session includes:

— Permit the commission to make expenditures for the equipment refreshment for county elections in this state that may be disbursed for those purposes on evidence of county matching monies, with a county providing $3 for every $1 from the account.

— Permit the commission to make expenditures in its discretion related to voter participation in judicial retention elections.

— Permit the commission to engage in voter education related to state initiatives and referenda, including identifying pilot programs for voter education, participation, and evaluation and pay associated costs.

Threat To Voter Power?

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from restricting certain independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions with its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

The case’s precedent does not apply to state and local elections, but its principles could be, and several states (including Arizona) have pursued legislation with that in mind in the years since the Citizens United ruling, said Arizona Senator Debbie McCune Davis, who spoke Jan. 23 at a Central Arizona National Lawyers Guild forum at the Burton Barr library in downtown Phoenix.

The case stemmed from a campaign film that was in apparent violation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act — also known as McCain-Feingold — so it ended up in court. The film’s producers eventually won their argument that the law, as it applied to Citizens United — a political action committee primarily funded by large corporate interests — was unconstitutional. Specifically, the BCRA rule in question involved certain restrictions on expenditures 30 days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election.

During both the current and previous state lawmaking sessions, bills have been drafted in the Arizona Legislature that would instruct Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would dismantle the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. The current proposal is HCR 2026 (http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/51leg/2r/bills/hcr2026p.pdf).

Citizens United is a non-profit group, but the precedent can be applied more broadly to for-profit corporations, associations, or labor unions, said constitutional lawyer and campaign policy analyst, Paul Eckstein, who also spoke at the Jan. 23 event.

Parli Pro Or Partisan Knavery

Sen. McCune said that during the previous legislative session, Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin failed to assign the previous version of HCR 2026 to committee. The Senate republican communications staff declined to comment regarding previous sessions, but said that during the current session, of the 27 House concurrent resolutions submitted, only two of them had been assigned to committee as of early last week.

“Regarding the Citizens United ruling, the republican caucus is made up of 36 individuals, each with his or her own opinion,” said Arizona Senate republican communications staff member Christopher Leone, responding on behalf of Tobin’s office. “We don't have a position from the caucus on the Citizens United ruling. If we did, I would gladly share it with you.”

There is no law being violated when a bill is ignored and not placed before legislative committee, however it is a procedural failure, McCune said, and it effectively suppresses the voice of the equal constituencies that are all represented by legislators of any party, she said.

The Citizens United precedent is dangerous in a representative democracy, in any case, said Jon Alonis of the Arizona Advocacy Network.

“Big money can come in and pretty much just buy the whole bench, because, unfortunately, we've come to the point where whomever has the most money wins,” Alonis said. “The voice of the voters becomes silenced as we toss more money into the process.”

A corporation has limited liability, perpetual life, and potentially unlimited assets, and they are not people or electors, McCune said.

Some believe that the Citizens United case law precedent could lead to corporations being allowed to vote, Eckstein said, but that it is unlikely.

“I don't think the case can be read that far, despite all the hyperbole.”

Restrictions about contributions by foreign nationals and foreign companies are not affected by the high court's interpretation of Citizens United, he said. But political speech is the core speech that is protected by the First Amendment, and the legal interpretation that “money is speech” is not a new concept, Eckstein said.

Citizens United’s Communications Director Jeff Marschner did not return phone calls or respond to voice messages last week.

Chris G. Braswell is the managing editor of Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at cgbraswell@moderntimesmagazine.com.

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