Much has been made by advocates for greater campaign finance restrictions of the ability of taxpayer-funded political campaigns, commonly called "clean elections" or "voter-owned elections" by advocates, to banish so-called "special interests" to the sidelines while elected officials untainted with contributions from these groups are able to "do the people’s business," or whatever the platitude of the week is on this subject.
So imagine my surprise to read the following passage today in an Arizona Republic news article discussing Arizona’s current budget meltdown:
…the Legislature could close the deficit with only moderate cuts if voters agreed to throw the protected programs into the mix…It would be ugly, given the special interests that would rise up, and it would be a fight.
Special interests? I thought such creatures had faded from memory in the Copper State, driven off by "clean elections." In fact, the web site of Arizona’s Clean Elections Institute proudly states that "When campaigns are publicly funded, special interests have no "favors" to redeem once a candidates [sic] win office..."
In fact, googling the terms "Arizona," "legislation," and "special interest" produces more than 36,000 hits for the past year alone. A good number of these hits, to be sure, are various "reformers" touting the miraculous cleaning power of taxpayer dollars in campaigns with an enthusiasm normally reserved for Shamwow! infomercials.
But many are the normal complaints about organized interest groups in Arizona lobbying for their priorities and achieving varying degrees of success and failure. In fact, the first link goes to a Tax Foundation report on a special interest "laundry list" of legislative proposals that starts out "Last week, Arizona state representatives unveiled a raft of proposed subsidies and special tax breaks for favored industries. Typically, with packages of lobbyist-driven handouts such as these…"
Doing the same with "Napolitano" (for Arizona’s immediate past Governor, Janet Napolitano) instead of "legislation" brings in 37,000 hits, including in the number 4 spot a blog on Arizona politics that reports on a local group’s charge that an executive order by Napolitano "circumvents the legislature and is nothing more than a payback to special interest groups and unions in the waning days of the Napolitano administration."
So, despite tens of millions of taxpayer dollars poured into political campaign coffers over the past decade, charges of "special interest" influence, handouts, and payback still fly in Arizona. Perhaps it’s about time to re-examine the idea that allowing politicians to raid the public till is an effective way to boost citizens’ confidence in government?