Buckle your seat belts my dear progressive friends. I believe it is time for a truly radical change in Arizona’s campaign finance laws.
No. Not more regulations or burdensome limits that make no difference in the quality of our campaigns. It is time, I believe, to simply do away with limits on campaign contributions.
The intent of limiting contributions was, to the extent possible, help keep money out of politics…or at least minimize the impact. But it just hasn’t worked.
Instead of cleaner more transparent elections where somebody is held accountable for virtually everything, we have a political free for all. Money is still influencing our elections, of course. Big money. Money that is getting bigger and bigger all the time with less and less accountability.
And that was even before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to a torrent of cash being poured into our campaigns. In fact, we still don’t know for certain who was behind the big time cash that sank two ballot measures in 2012. Oh, we have a pretty good idea, but the invisible deep pocket donors weren’t held accountable when it really mattered: during the election. To add to this campaign circus, we had to rely on state officials in California to get even a vague idea of where the money came from.
But we do know this: The money hasn’t disappeared. It has just drifted farther and farther away from control by our political candidates. Limit contributions to candidates = contributions go to outside groups.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, it was reported, is pitching for higher campaign contribution limits for state and local candidate campaigns. They are being short-sighted and, to be blunt, a bit naive.
The problem isn’t that there is too much money in our campaigns and elections. The problem is that our convoluted campaign finance laws are designed, inadvertently, to create criminals or at least criminal schemes to get around them.
We now have a ‘system’ that encourages subterfuge with campaign contributions flowing from one invisible group to another before finally coming out the other end as either direct candidate contributions or so-called “independent expenditures.”
These IE’s are supposed to operate without “coordination” with a candidate’s campaign. Ha. Folks operating these groups don’t need to sit down and lay out a strategic plan for how their cash is to be used after someone has become a candidate. They do it before a candidacy is established, at the very least. More often, however, the person running the IE is so close to the candidate that they simply know what needs to be done to win. And, typically, that means dirtying up the opponent.
I propose a new campaign finance system based on the Virginia model. Here’s how they describe their campaign finance rules:
There are no contribution limits in Virginia. A committee can accept contributions from any individual,
corporation, union, association or partnership. It is required that all contributions received by the
committee, and that all required information identifying the contributor, be reported on the committee’s
campaign finance reports.
That, coupled with some pretty stiff requirements regarding immediate reporting of contributions, has served the people of Virginia pretty well…at least with no more or more significant scandals than we have in Arizona.
I suspect that looking at Arizona’s campaign finance and election laws from this new and different perspective will cause some headaches. Take a few Advil. After spending a good chuck of my life in and around political campaigns I can tell you this: without taking a new, dramatically different approach to running our elections, we’ll just see more and more futile efforts to control the flow of money into politics.