Friday, May 16, 2008

Why The Alaska Clean Elections Initiative Will Not Work; Arizona Tried It And Doesn't Like It

In a post dated March 27th, 2008, I discussed the Alaska Clean Elections Initiative, which will appear on the Alaska primary ballots as Proposition Three on August 26th, 2008. At that time, I also presented the 10 deficiencies in the initiative identified by Alaska House District 22 Republican Candidate Mark Fish.

According to an Anchorage Daily News editorial published on March 15th, 2008, the Alaska Clean Elections plan is a voluntary system that offers candidates modest sums of public money to run for office. In return, they agree to abide by spending limits and use only Clean Elections money to run their race. But if opponents run a conventional campaign funded by special interests, Clean Elections candidates don't have to fight with one hand tied behind their back. In those races, the Clean Elections candidate gets more money to compensate. To ensure that only serious candidates participate, candidates have to get signatures and $5 qualifying contributions from a significant number of supporters to qualify for Clean Election money. ADN estimates that if all legislative candidates would agree to become "clean" candidates, it would cost $6,000,000 in public money, but they claim it would be worth it. More specific information about the initiative can be found at the AlaskansForCleanElections website.

Click HERE to view the entire 24-page initiative in PDF format (takes about 60 seconds to load).

Proponents of this initiative have done some homework. They've cited similar initiatives in other states as additional justification. One of those other states is Arizona. And now, thanks to Nick Dranias, the Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at the Goldwater Institute, we have a progress report on the clean elections law in Arizona. Here's the report, entitled "Clean Elections Doesn't Encourage Diversity Among Candidates", cross-posted in its entirety from Phxnews.com:

Advocates of the Arizona Clean Elections Act promised a bountiful yield of political diversity by seeding the campaign trail with millions of taxpayer dollars. But a new report finds there has been no increase in "non-traditional" candidates.

Clean Elections really only cleans up taxpayer wallets. A study by the
Center for Competitive Politics shows the same mix of people are running for statewide office as always have. This study supports previous findings by the Goldwater Institute that taxpayer funded political campaigns have "not resulted in any increase in minor or third-party participation." Moreover, incumbency reelection rates have remained near 100 percent. [Ed. Note: Another report published by the Center on March 27th, 2008 shows NO correlation between "clean elections" and lobbyist activity.]

The Clean Election Act has, however, succeeded in protecting the political status quo. This is not surprising. The act's complex regulatory mandates deter ordinary citizens from entering the political arena. For those who accept taxpayer funding, the act tilts the competition in favor of incumbents by holding all candidates to the same spending limits - preventing new candidates from spending more to overcome the name recognition of incumbents.

The Clean Elections Act has had the opposite effect that its proponents promised. That's why it's been appropriately dubbed the "Incumbent Protection Act." If we want to encourage more diversity among political candidates, Clean Elections isn't the way to do it.


The Arizona initiative also resulted in the creation of yet another bureaucracy, the Arizona Clean Elections Commission.

The 24 pages of the Alaska initiative exposes its Byzantine complexity. The creation of a separate and parallel CEC exposes its bureaucracy. Thus we are offered increased complexity and bureaucracy, at a projected price tag of $6 million. And for what? The Arizona experience shows it is likely to deter ordinary candidates who might make a genuine difference and encourage only "professional" candidates for public office. In other words, business as usual, but at a higher price.

The Alaska Clean Elections Initiative is not a measured logical response to an institutional problem, but a hysterical emotional response to the VECO anomaly. The Alaska scandals were triggered by those who misused and gamed the existing system, which has otherwise proven serviceable. Consequently, the initiative is nothing more than a legislative "group hug". Alaskans should reject this initiative on August 26th.

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