Caught on Tape: Massive Arizona Sting Forced Reforms


One of the casualties, said Lujan, has been some of the free food and parties that are a staple of life in other state capitals. "There was a lot more of lobbyist entertainment-type things that happened [then] as compared to now."

Arizona was not the first state to enact clean elections reforms. Maine voters approved a clean elections measure by referendum in 1996 and it has remained popular ever since. As in Arizona, candidates can opt in or out of the system, choosing to accept public funding if they decline corporate and other donations. According to the Maine Clean Elections Commission, 80 percent of the members of the state legislature ran for office under the public financing option.

Maine freshman representative Alex Cornell du Houx told ABC News clean elections helped him think about voters, not fundraising. "It allows candidates and public officials to focus on better serving their community," said Cornell du Houx, "as they do not have so much time finding funds."

Connecticut is the latest state to adopt Maine and Arizona-style clean elections reforms. The state was moved to act by the prosecution and conviction of Gov. John Rowland, who went to federal prison in 2005 for having free work done on his home. The election reforms were passed the same year, and implemented in time for the 2008 election. According to Cheri Quickmire of the advocacy group Common Cause Connecticut, about 80 percent of state legislators now serving chose the public financing option.

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"People who ran under both systems say it was a sea change in the legislature," she said.

None of the three states that have enacted clean elections reforms have seen a widespread corruption scandal among elected state officials in recent years.

Court Challenges to Clean Elections

But clean elections reforms have not been implemented without hiccups. New Jersey and Massachusetts, have implemented reforms only to roll them back. Voters in California rejected clean elections reforms, apparently recoiling at the idea of spending tax dollars on elections.

Critics have also attacked the clean elections law in court, and say the attempt at reform has merely created new ways to game the system.

A 2009 article in the Phoenix New Times weekly details how various politicians have abused the Arizona state system. Some would-be politicos have treated the public treasury as a private piggy bank, using public financing to pay for parties, frozen drink machines, and Segway ramps, while others have discovered that the public funding option can be used to double-team political foes at state expense.

In 2008, the Green Party was surprised to find an unfamiliar person running as a publicly funded Green candidate for a state seat. The candidate, apparently put forward by Republicans in order to undercut the incumbent Democratic candidate in a swing district, used public money to pay for conulsting and research from GOP firms, and drew enough votes to throw the election to the Republican.

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