State Senator Jeff Smith (D) filed SB 1071, a public campaign finance solution which appears to be based on the Arizona model. I first became familiar with the Arizona public campaign finance system when I was visiting Tucson and happened to attend a local Democratic meeting. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard (son of the legendary Sam Goddard) spoke at the meeting and was asking attendees to make their $5 contributions so he could opt for public financing. It was refreshing, to say the least, to hear a pitch along those lines from a statewide candidate.

In another world, Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields (r) filed SB 1038 which repeals campaign finance limits.

The summary of Jeff Smith’s modest proposal:

SB 1071 – This act creates a method for publicly financing election campaigns for legislative and gubernatorial candidates.

Candidates certified as clean election candidates are eligible to receive public funding for their respective campaigns by raising qualifying contributions, in the sum of $5 per voter, from a specified number of individuals, during a specified qualifying period. The candidates may, before certification, raise and spend seed money contributions of no more than $100 per contribution, up to $50,000 for candidates for Governor, $1,500 for candidates for the Senate, and $500 for candidates for the House of Representatives. Any individual may contribute to the fund at any time without limitation.

The Ethics Commission shall disburse funds from the Clean Election Fund to certified candidates to match the funds raised and spent by any non-certified opponent. The fund is comprised of $2,000,0000 of income and sales and use taxes that shall be deposited into the fund yearly, all qualifying contributions, unspent funds, reallocations, certain fines, and other donations.

The amounts of funds to be distributed to certified candidates are based on average expenditures of previous campaigns and whether or not the race is contested. Once certified, participating candidates may only receive and spend moneys allocated to the candidate from the fund. All unspent revenues originating from the fund must be returned by participating candidates defeated in primaries and all participating candidates after applicable general elections.

A process for challenging the certification of a candidate is included in the act. Fines may be imposed upon candidates in violation of the act and certain acts constitute a Class A misdemeanor.

A Joint Committee on Clean Elections is also established to study and recommend legislation relating to the administration, implementation, and enforcement of the act.

Arizona’s public campaign financing system is run by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission which is made up of five individual members:

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission was established by the enactment of the Citizens Clean Elections Act, A.R.S., Title 16, Chapter 6, Article 2. In addition to administering the provisions of Article 2, the Commission promulgates rules and enforces A.R.S. §§ 16-940 through 16-961.

From the Arizona State Senate Issue Paper [pdf], October 24, 2007:

Arizona’s Citizens’ Clean Elections Act (Act), proposed by initiative petition, was approved in the November 1998 general election. The Act establishes a system to limit campaign spending and fundraising for political candidates in statewide and legislative elections. Those who wish to be “participating” Clean Elections candidates receive public financing for their election campaigns….

…All political candidates running for election in Arizona are subject to statutory contribution limitations….

…Candidates who wish to receive public financing can submit an application to the SOS for certification as a participating candidate in order to receive money from the Commission. To qualify, candidates must receive a specified number of $5 contributions from registered voters, limit the spending of their personal monies for their candidacy, limit their campaign spending to the dollar amounts received from the Commission and comply with controls on their campaign account. The election spending limits are determined by statute. Candidates who agree to limit their fundraising and spending qualify as a participating candidate…

…The Commission makes additional payments to the participating candidate’s campaign account as the nonparticipating candidate exceeds the election spending limits, up to three times the amount of the spending limit…

Participating candidates who fail to qualify for the ballot must return unspent public monies. These “disqualified” participating candidates must return public monies above an amount to pay any unpaid bills for expenditures made prior to the date the candidate failed to qualify for the primary ballot and return payments made to a family member if the candidate is unable to account that the goods or services by the family member was at fair market value. Additionally, a disqualified participating candidate must return to the Commission, within 14 days, all remaining assets purchased with public monies…

If someone who does not “participate” in public funding outspends you, the commission kicks in money over the limit. In effect, negating any fundraising advantage on the part of non-participating candidates – because when they raise more money for themselves over the established public financing limit, they end up also raising money for the participating candidate. Sweet.

The Arizona commission appears to have significant enforcement powers. In one case, they removed a member of the state legislature from office for exceeding the public finance limits (and this withstood a court challenge).

It’s interesting that the republicans in Arizona don’t like it:

…”On the whole, it has opened up the political process to a new pool of candidates,” said Michael Frias, campaign director for the Arizona Democratic Party. “But we need to look and see where it can be improved.”

Some Republican leaders have harsher feelings about Arizona’s public financing system….

…Under the clean money rules, if a privately funded candidate raises more money than the limit, Arizona matches those excess contributions, dollar for dollar, for the publicly funded opponent.

The rule can slash the value of independent fundraising.

In 2002, for example, Matt Salmon, the GOP candidate for governor, ran as a privately funded candidate. President Bush visited Arizona to raise money for Salmon’s campaign and generated $750,000. After paying $250,000 for expenses, Salmon was left with $500,000 for his campaign.

Because Napolitano was running under the clean election rules, the state commission gave her $750,000 to match what Salmon had raised, meaning she made more from Bush’s Arizona visit than the Republican candidate did…

You’ve just got to love a law which provides powerful disincentives for a visit by George W. Bush.

And Charlie Shields’ answer [pdf] for Missouri?

…No member of or candidate for the general assembly shall form a candidate committee for the office of speaker of the house of representatives or president pro tem of the senate…

That’s an interesting clause, eh?

…Any candidate for the office of state representative, the of
fice of state senator, or a statewide elected office shall not accept any contributions from the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January through the first Friday after the second Monday of May of each year at 6:00 p.m….

No fundraising (wink, wink, nod, nod) during the legislative session!

And, it repeals campaign contribution limits!

You’ve just got to learn to expect this from republicans – they always throw money at their problems…