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Updated Feb 26, 2013 - 6:52 pm

Clean Elections consolidation bill advances

PHOENIX — The Citizen’s Clean Election Commission would be consolidated
with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office and take on added responsibilities
for overseeing election law violations and lobbyist reporting under a bill
approved by a Senate committee Tuesday.

The proposal approved by the Appropriations Committee would allow the
voter-created commission to still do its work independently but add some
responsibilities and bring operational efficiencies, Secretary of State Ken
Bennett said. The bill also would restore a so-called “tax checkoff” included
in the law creating the commission that was eliminated by the Legislature last
year.

The bill would require any extra money the commission has to be turned over to
Bennett’s office to help pay for replacing election equipment. The state needs
millions of dollars to buy new voting equipment in the coming years.

“We’re not trying to change anything about what works well in the commission,
which are many, many things,” Bennett said. “What we’re trying to do is create
some synergies, create some funding mechanisms for the monies to help improve
the elections systems as a whole, which is consistent with what the voters
originally passed when they created the commission.”

Bennett and commission executive director Todd Lang said the merger will
strengthen the commission’s role by adding oversight of lobbyists and other
election laws to its current campaign finance oversight. It also would eliminate
problems that have occurred when competing candidates hold powerful elected
office. For example, Bennett’s office now refers elections law issues to the
Attorney General’s Office, creating a potential conflict if that person is
subject to a probe.

The non-partisan, five-member Commission created by voters in 1998 provides
funding for state office candidates who agree to forego private financing. It
was intended to increase participation and voter confidence in the election
system and elected officials, Lang said.

“And this would allow us to enforce all the lobbying, all articles of election
law and financial disclosure with that non-partisan commission,” Lang said. “I
think that builds voter confidence. At the same time it allows us to upgrade
election equipment that’s really important to Mr. Bennett and the Secretary of
State’s office.”

The Commission is a regular target of opponents in the Legislature, who dispute
that and say public money should be used for campaigns and have tried to have it
eliminated. Proponents contend that public campaign funding reduces the
influence of special interests in elections and government.

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