July 30, 2004
An initiative intended to dry up funds for public financing of campaigns cannot be on the ballot because it seeks to make too many changes with one vote, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.
Judge Margaret Downie said supporters of Proposition 106 would have had no legal trouble if they limited their proposed constitutional amendment to ban the Citizens Clean Elections Commission from giving public dollars to candidates.
But Downie said those who crafted the initiative included a provision which also would take away the commission’s automatic funding of other activities, such as sponsoring debates.
The judge said the state constitution contains a provision limiting amendments to a single subject. It prevents voters who might support only one provision but oppose another from being forced to accept — or reject — both.
An appeal was filed with the state’s high court late Thursday. "I’m confident the Supreme Court will not wish to disenfranchise so many voters in Arizona,’’ said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a backer of Proposition 106.
The initiative is an attack on a 1998 voter-approved law which permits state financing of campaigns.
To qualify, candidates must gather a set number of $5 donations to show a base of support. Then they have to forgo other donations and limit their spending.
Flake said that Downie is wrong in assuming that halting publicly financed campaigns and defunding the commission are separate issues. "The fact is the commission did not exist prior to the (1998) initiative’’ which created the public financing system.
Flake also said that the other duties, like scheduling debates, publishing a candidate information pamphlet and enforcing newly created campaign finance laws, also did not exist.
But the judge said the constitution is clear. She said the initiative "could have been drafted more narrowly’’ so that it focused on the use of public dollars for campaigns, and ensured that the commission gave up money not needed for its other functions.
"Indeed, this more narrow purpose is the one expressed in the initiative itself,’’ the judge wrote.
The system got its first test two years ago when Democrat Janet Napolitano took public money in her successful bid to defeat Republican Matt Salmon for governor. He relied on private donations.
Foes of the system contend it is flawed.
For example, the law that limits Napolitano’s spending did not preclude the state Democratic Party from buying commercials attacking Salmon. But when the Republican Party responded with its own ads, the commission gave an equal amount of money to Napolitano with no offset for what the Democrats had spent.
The major source of funding for the repeal comes largely from business interests. Supporters say these are special interests that want to influence who gets elected by deciding who gets campaign dollars.