PHOENIX - State senators voted Monday to ask voters to dump the Clean Elections system they approved 12 years ago, but without actually killing the program.
The bill, approved 16-12, would constitutionally prohibit public money from being used to finance political campaigns.
But SCR 1009, which now goes to the House, makes no mention of the "Citizens Clean Elections Act." And Jonathan Paton, who resigned from the Senate a week ago to run for Congress, said he deliberately wrote it that way to encourage voters to go along.
That approach drew criticism from Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix.
"I'm not a big fan of Clean Elections," he said. "But let's honestly put it up for a vote by the people of Arizona whether they want to continue this program or not."
Under the plan approved by voters in 1998, candidates for statewide or legislative office can get public campaign funding if they agree to limit spending and not to take money from outside sources. Changing it requires taking the issue back to the ballot.
Paton, a Republican from Tucson, said his goal of getting rid of public funding "gets clouded with the fact that it's called Clean Elections."
"They have an entire branding and marketing campaign," he said, financed with the money they get from those fines (that pay for Clean Elections campaigns) as well as donations. They spend taxpayer dollars to promote this so it can never be eliminated."
Under the terms of Paton's legislation, the proposal that would go before voters in November would make no mention of "Clean Elections," but if the ban on public funding in SCR 1009 is approved by voters, the central purpose of the law would disappear.
Paton said other functions the commission that now administers the program would remain, such as setting up debates.
But the law requires only those candidates who get public money to take part in the debates. With no such funding, candidates would be free to ignore the debates.
The proposal doesn't eliminate the surcharge on court fines that goes to fund campaigns, not does it identify where the money should go if voters bounce pubic funding.
However, Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, is pushing a separate ballot measure to have the money redirected for education needs.
These have to be separate ballot questions, because the Arizona Constitution limits the number of subjects that can be in a single proposal sent to voters.