What Arizonans Need To Know About Prop 306

This November, Arizonans are voting on HB 2007, otherwise known as Proposition 306. Representative Doug Coleman (R-16) introduced the initiative in response to reports that several Democratic candidates used their Clean Elections campaign contributions to write generous checks to the state’s Democratic Party.

Candidates can do this thanks to a different proposition that voters passed back in 1998: Prop 200. This resulted in the creation of the Citizens Clean Election Commission (CCEC) and a system by which political candidates can draw upon public funds to finance their political campaigns. Clean Elections candidates are required to collect so many $5.00 qualifying contributions in order to access a pool of public dollars. In this article, we look at Prop 306 as well as the political spectrum that led to its creation.

What Will Prop 306 Do?

Prop 306 seeks to stop candidates of any party from donating public funds to political parties and 501(c)(4) groups. Whether someone is a Republican, Democrat, independent, or a part of a different party, most people would agree they do not want their own tax dollars supporting the political party machines. Taxpayers may have disagreement on how to prioritize funding based upon the state’s limited resources: roads and highways, education, healthcare, criminal justice. Of all the necessary government functions, spending tax dollars on increasing the clout of the Republican and Democrat party is most likely universally last.

And ironically, the passage of the Clean Elections Act was an attempt to keep outside influence and money out of local politics. The use of the system to funnel money into political parties and special interest groups is a betrayal of the voters intentions when they passed the Clean Elections Act.

The second component adds a layer of oversight that the CCEC currently does not have, by giving the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council (GRRC) the authority to approve CCEC rules.

Currently, the CCEC operates outside the scope of any other regulatory oversite. There are no checks and balances as there are in every other level of government. The CCEC claims it doesn’t need that same type of oversight because voters intended to give them unfettered power and control. CCEC is the only agency in the state that has an exemption from the Administrative Procedures Act which requires agencies to go through a formal rulemaking process.

The CCEC is comprised of 5 appointed members: two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent. These members are appointed by the Governor as well as the Minority Leader in the State Senate. The commission has an executive director as well as hires a contract lobbyist to influence legislation at the state.

So, Why Do We Need Prop 306?

The idea behind Prop 200, the measure that passed in 1998, was to give Arizonans more transparency in campaign financing. Voters were alarmed by the sudden increase in campaign spending. Coupled with the rise of so-called “dark” money (i.e. funds from an unknown source), Arizona voters chose to create the Citizens Clean Election Commission.

One goal of the CCEC was to level the playing field to allow anyone to run for office by accessing public funds. The Clean Elections Act was passed by 50.1 percent of voters in Arizona.

Arguably, if taxpayers would have known that someday “Clean” Elections would be allowing money to funnel to political parties, those same taxpayers would be appalled. Proponents of Prop 306 believe it’s only fair to give taxpayers another chance to have their voices heard on the subject and decide if this minor tweak and measure of accountability is appropriate. Opponents argue however that the Clean Elections Commission already passed a rule to fix the known issue of money going to political parties. They also argue that requiring the commission to go through the State’s rulemaking process would take away its independence.

Firstly, the Clean Elections Commission did in fact pass a rule to address the problem of money going to political parties. However, the rule did not disallow the practice. Instead, it codified it and said they could pay the parties for “services.” This basically kept in place the status quo as candidates were already able to claim they paid the parties for “services rendered” such as access to databases. Curiously, parties already provide databases to candidates for free as well as offer many other services for free because that is the whole purpose of the parties. Political parties are set up to help their candidates. Additionally, the rule they passed expanded the ability for candidates to write checks to 501(c)s; groups such as the NRA, Sierra Club or Planned Parenthood.

What Is the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council?

Prop 306’s proponents point out that no checks and balances apply to the CCEC. There is no oversight group making sure they honor the spirit of Prop 200.

The Governor’s Regulatory Review Council provides oversight on the rulemaking process for a variety of state agencies, commissions, and boards. It is a seven-member council, with six of those members being appointed by the Governor and one by the Department of Administration.

Opposers to Prop 306 claim the Clean Elections Commission is meant to be completely independent and be able to operate without any other oversight or accountability. They believe the rulemaking process already in place at the Clean Elections Commission is sufficient.

GRRC however lays out a much more involved, predictable and formal process of passing rules. There are more opportunities for public comment, better public notice of meetings, and an entire professional staff steeped in public administration. If CCEC’s proposed rule to “fix” money being funneled to political parties had been required to follow the State’s formal rulemaking process, there is a much greater likelihood that the rule passed would not have codified the practice nor expanded the practice to include interest groups.

Opponents of Prop 306 also argue that it was voters intention to have the CCEC be completely exempt from formal rulemaking. Understandably, no organization or entity likes to have their power encroached upon. However, it is more likely that voters generally approved of a system that was an alternative to candidates relying on special interest monies. Either way, if the Clean Elections Commission believes that was the voters belief, then they shouldn’t fear it going back to voters to clarify.

Voters understand that even the CCEC is comprised of political appointees with political interests and leanings and that an outside rulemaking process keeps integrity in the system as a whole. Every entity in government should have a check and balance to it. Additionally, as previously mentioned, the margin by which the program passed was extremely thin and was passed two decades ago. It is reasonable to give a new base of voters an opportunity to make a small amendment to the program and update the Act to be reflective of their priorities.

What Does a Yes Vote Mean?

A Yes vote accomplishes two things:

  • Candidates may not donate funds from public financing accounts to political parties or tax-exempt groups seeking to influence Arizona elections
  • The CCEC will be required to

A No vote means that opposes these two provisions.

Is This a Good Move for Arizona?

This may be a difficult question for voters to answer if they don’t have all the facts. It is important to note that this proposition does not do away with the Clean Elections system. Some voters will be relieved by this, and others will believe that is a flaw of the proposition. However, the proposition is very narrowly tailored to address a specific and well-documented issue that arose with candidates using their public dollars to enrich their political party. It also seeks to address the flaw in the CCEC system that allowed a rule to pass that failed to fix this very issue.

At the end of the day, the Clean Elections Act was passed by voters and they ought to have the opportunity to revisit the system every once in a while, to determine if they still believe it aligns with their beliefs and goals.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.