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Arizona Clean Elections- On the Griddle Again

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Message Larry Sakin
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from attorneys for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). The Tucson based physicians advocacy group believes Arizona clean elections infringe upon their free speech rights.

You read that right. Not happy that they can contribute whatever amount of money to a candidate they wish, the AAPS wants the 9th Circuit to abolish the voter approved elections measure so they can have more free speech rights than ordinary citizens.

The intent of the 1998 clean elections law is to improve the integrity of Arizona state government by diminishing the influence of special interest money. But AAPS attorney William Maurer argued to the court that the physicians' group believes "the act is a disincentive for them to engage in political advocacy." The group declines to donate to political candidates because doing so under the law provides public funding for opposing candidates.

AAPS believes their ability to donate funds to a particular candidate should override public financing. Because they can give more money, they should have more free speech.

Not surprisingly, AAPS was joined in the suit by newly elected State Treasurer Dean Martin, a former conservative legislator who's been trying to outlaw clean elections since he gained office, and Matt Salmon, a Phoenix businessman and former Republican candidate for governor. Salmon is mad because he didn't receive public funds to pay for advertising to counteract those by Democratic opponent Janet Napolitano, paid for through clean elections funding. Salmon refused to finance his campaign under the act's rules. Salmon thinks that because he financed his campaign on his own, he should have been given "an edge" over the publicly funded Napolitano campaign. In other words, more free speech.

Actually, I'd be laughing right now if this weren't so sad. One of the judges, John Noonan, asked State of Arizona attorney Craig Soland "explain why this referendum makes any sense." Apparently, good Judge Noonan believes in the theory of "may the best funded candidate win."

AAPS will have an uphill battle winning this case. Over the course of nine years, state and federal courts have ruled clean elections as constitutional. Candidates aren't compelled to run as clean elections candidates, which would be illegal. It's on a strictly voluntary basis. Candidates have to adhere to strict accounting procedures and the statute demands that candidates make themselves available for public forums. Two other states, Maine and Connecticut, have state clean election laws, and several more state legislatures are considering the measure. There is also a Congressional Bill, H.R. 1099, which allows for clean elections in federal campaigns.

But lobbying groups like Association for American Physicians and Surgeons don't like the idea of regular Jose's garnering access to the political system via clean elections. Those candidates can't be controlled by lobbyists when they're elected. So they want to stack the deck by saying their campaign donations are more meaningful than public funds, and that lobbying groups should be given special dispensation by the courts.

The San Francisco-based appeals court did not indicate when it would rule. Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure. In the future, the merits of Arizona's clean election laws will be heard in another federal courtroom near you.
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Larry Sakin is a former non-profit medical organization executive and music producer. His writing can be found on, Blogcritics, OpEd News, The People's Voice, Craig's List and The Progressive magazine. He also advocates for literacy and (more...)
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