The city of Tempe faces a myriad of important issues – education, public safety and economic development to name just a few. But recently the Tempe City Council has decided that there is an even higher priority for taxpayers’ hard-earned money: Giving it to political campaigns.
Yes, the Tempe City Council is looking to place on the ballot a Charter Amendment that would create a publicly financed election system in Tempe as soon as next year – virtually identical to the Clean Elections system in place statewide.
As a general rule of thumb, whenever incumbents rewrite the rules of the game, it is never in their challengers’ favor. Government-funded elections are no different. Incumbents enjoy enormous advantages over challengers, not least of which is free exposure – or earned media – through various media appearances as a public official. In contrast, challengers need to spend a lot of resources just to introduce themselves to voters, not to mention outline their platform and draw contrasts.
Then there is the matter of how to pay for it all. Knowing full well that a new tax or more deficit spending for taxpayer-funded campaigns would never fly with voters, Tempe politicians are attempting to quietly add a new court fee, on top of countless other surcharges, that people who commit minor traffic violations have to pay. So much so that a simple speeding ticket could soon cost you as much as $250, partly because you are being forced to give money to a politician’s campaign – whether you support them or not.
A speeding ticket is – by definition – an unexpected expense, one most people can ill afford as it is. In fact, go into any courtroom in Arizona, and it’s clear that many of the people who would be paying these fees for government-run elections are already poor. Now politicians in Tempe want to soak them a little more to bolster their own re-election.
Furthermore, once again, no one watches the watchers. The Arizona Clean Elections Commission, faced with dwindling support and fewer participating candidates each year, has taken to extraordinary abuses of power in an attempt to remain relevant. These include trying to actually fine non-participating candidates and committees in a gross overreach of authority, as well as override federal law, the US Supreme Court, the authority of the Legislature and Secretary of State, and the US Constitution, in order to abolish protections on political speech by disclosing the donor lists of non-profit advocacy organizations.
Fortunately voters will have a say in whether this goes forward, likely in March 2016 when its on the municipal ballot. Will the proposal to tax the poor to pay for taxpayer-funded campaigns – overseen by an unelected, unaccountable commission – actually become law? If you live in Tempe, that will be up to you.