NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 4, 2006

When citizens passed Arizona's Clean Elections Act in 1998, proponents hoped it would mark the beginning of a new era in elections: one of improved voter turnout, increased candidate participation and less special interest influence, says campaign finance attorney, Allison R. Hayward.

Despite its good intentions, Arizona's Clean Elections system has largely failed to meet its goals, says Hayward:

  • Clean Elections was trumpeted as a means to improve citizen participation; however, since the law passed in 1998, voter turnout has not improved.
  • Likewise, Clean Elections promised to increase the number of candidates in each election and help reduce the incumbency reelection rate; but a review of election cycles shows that since 1998, incumbency reelection rates have remained near 100 percent, and, from 2002 to 2004, the number of primary candidates for office fell from 247 to 195.
  • Additionally, the law has not increased minor or third-party participation in politics, and Arizona campaigns remain every bit as hard-edged under Clean Elections as when traditionally funded.

Furthermore, says Hayward, Clean Elections comes at a cost:

  • The funding mechanism has a double-edged impact on state finances. It takes $5 from a taxpayer's taxes and credits each taxpayer another $5.
  • The program requires a confusing and frustrating regulatory regime that threatens constitutional liberties; for instance, the obligation to monitor abuse of public funds requires a level of invasive investigation that is simply not necessary in traditionally funded systems.

There is little evidence that the Clean Elections law has fulfilled its goals. Instead, it imposes real burdens on political speech and on the ability to run for office. Researchers conclude that Arizona's Clean Elections system actually harms the political process while imposing significant costs on the public, says Hayward.

Source: Allison R. Hayward, "Campaign Promises: A Six-year Review of Arizona's Experiment with Taxpayer-financed Campaigns," Goldwater Institute, No. 209, March 28, 2006.


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