Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 24, 2010

Host: Ted Simons

Clean Elections

  • A federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of part of Arizona’s law for publicly-financed elections known as Clean Elections. Executive Director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission Todd Lang discusses the court’s decision.
  • Todd Lang - Executive Director, Citizens Clean Elections Commission
Category: Elections

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Tonight on "Horizon," an appeals court upholds matching funds for political candidates in Arizon’s Clean Elections program. And a look at health care reform two months after the much-debated reform package was signed into law. That’s coming up next on "Horizon."

Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio did not have to appear before the Board of Supervisors in a contempt hearing today. That after a ruling by a Pima County judge, who granted Arpaio a temporary stay of the contempt hearing. The judge has ordered the parties to meet on June 4TH to determine the merits of a complaint filed by Arpaio's attorneys. The board did meet today to discuss possible spending mismanagement in the sheriff's office. And earlier today, the board froze the sheriff's access to certain funds until supervisors can figure out how the money is being spent.

The United States Supreme Court says it will review a ruling on a tuition tax credit case out of Arizona. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the tax credit, which gives a dollar-for-dollar refund for money given to student tuition organizations, violates the first amendment because much of the money goes to students attending religious schools. The high-court will likely hear the case this fall.

The Ninth Circuit last week upheld matching funds for candidates running in Arizona's Clean Elections system. The court ruled that matching funds were not a burden to free speech. Here to talk about the ruling is Clean Elections Commission Executive Director Todd Lang. Good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

Todd Lang:
Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Okay. Not unconstitutional, Ninth Circuit appeals makes a decision. Your thoughts on the whole thing.

Todd Lang:
Really the Ninth Circuit didn't say that much that was different then what the trial court said. The only key distinction is and why we had the different outcome is the trial court felt controlled by a recent court decision case called Davis and the supreme court said it didn't apply to this situation. Both agreed there was no real showing of harm, all the harm was hypothetical and the conclusion was it is constitutional.

Ted Simons:
Talk more about the Davis case and why the district court saw it one way and the appeals court saw it another.

Todd Lang:
Davis struck down the millionaires amendment in the federal campaign finance law saying you can't discriminate, you can't change the rules in the middle of the game for wealthy folks who spend a lot of their own money, you can't change the rules and allow competitors to suddenly be allowed to raise more money and the court didn't like the discriminatory nature of that law and struck it down. The trial court here felt compelled by the Davis case to strike down matching funds in Arizona because in some cases candidates might not spend money because they don't want to trigger matching funds. They don't want to hear the rebuttal. The Ninth Circuit says that is not how it works. These are political strategies.
It doesn't deter them from fundraising or from spending at all.
Those running traditionally in challenging the law blowing through the spending limits have triggered matching funds and are still able to win, obviously.

Ted Simons:
As far as free speech is concerned, the Ninth Circuit saying the funding is conditional, not a burden on free speech.

Todd Lang:
That's right. The plaintiff has a tough argument, they had to argue the first amendment not only protects freedom of speech but freedom of rebuttal, and that's not what our political discourse is about, its about hearing both sides, having a robust debate and that is what the Ninth Circuit found.

Ted Simons:
For those not up to speed on what Clean Elections is or matching funds are, give us a quick synopsis.

Todd Lang:
Clean Elections are a voluntary program that provides funding for candidates that don't want to take big donations from big-money contributors. Instead, they qualify by getting a number of contribution slips from the district and then use public funds to run. If their opponent, running traditionally, spends more than they receive, matching funds are awarded so voters can hear both sides of the story.

Ted Simons:
You hear public funds, where is the money coming from?

Todd Lang:
Not general revenues, it is not coming from your tax money unless you want to voluntarily donate but it comes from fines and penalties.

Ted Simons:
Do they have to actually take some classes or get some sort of instruction on this first?

Todd Lang:
They're required to take classes, required to participate in public debates. They're restricted; they can take no PAC money, no outside money, a small number of seed contributions and then the public funding.

Ted Simons:
Bottom line, State money to opposition candidates, if the traditionally funded candidate spends more, again, why is that not wrong? Why is it not -- I can see where some folks would say, wait a minute, that just doesn't seem right that if you spend X, I get to spend as much as you, and I get to use public money.

Todd Lang:
A lot of the plaintiffs felt that way, it was unfair. But the bottom line is what Clean Elections does is promotes more speech in the marketplace of ideas, and how can that be contrary to the first amendment? More people are able to discuss the issues of the day. You have nasty attack ads, matching funds allows the candidate to tell both sides of the story and that means a more educated voter and that is better for everyone.

Ted Simons:
Is Clean Elections working, in being totally pragmatic, are we getting better representation at the Capitol?

Todd Lang:
The criticism for Clean Elections is it lets candidates that don't have money to run. Which is odd because regardless of whether the candidates are good or not is whether people vote for them or not. Clean candidates are winning. Over 70% of the state legislature have run a clean election at least one time in their careers often times that first time and that is an indication it is working. The voters are getting more choices and the voters are making the decisions and not the insiders and fat cats.

Ted Simons:
There has been some criticism that what we're seeing in legislature is an, absolute chasm. They're in the extremes on one side and extremes on the other. That extremism, for some folks, they're blaming Clean Elections for that.

Todd Lang:
That is an unfair accusation. What we're seeing is our legislature is no more diverse than other legislatures across the country. The split in the Republican Party between conservatives and so-called business republicans, that is a nationwide trend and that is no different in Arizona. Ultimately, what they're really criticizing is the fact that they don't get to pick. The newspaper editors and chamber of commerce don't get to pick the candidates, instead the voters do and they don't like that.

Ted Simons:
Is there some validity of the idea that a little bit of history does weed out the non-serious candidate? You have to be serious to get in front of folks and say, here's what I've got, give me some money to take some action.

Todd Lang:
Clean Elections requires candidates to show the modicum of support by the $5 donations from voters in their districts, that weeds out the fringe and non-serious candidates and allows voters to decide who is best to run their district.
It sounds like the Goldwater Institute is quick to say they will get this to the Supreme Court.
I would be stunned if they didn't file an appeal. They've been against it for 10 years now, they’ve had six or seven lawsuits over this last decade, all unsuccessful, and I think they will file a lawsuit. We agree with the folks that filed the lawsuit, we need this resolved completely.

Ted Simons:
Todd, good to have you. Thank you for joining us.

Todd Lang:
Thank you.

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