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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Arizona Legislator May Be Swept From Office for Clean Elections Violation

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As Robbie Sherwood and Chip Scutari report in The Arizona Republic, Arizona Representative David Burnell Smith faces removal from office for overspending the limits under the state's system of public financing for elections.

Responding to the problems of an electoral system dominated by wealthy special interests, Arizona voters approved a system of voluntary public financing for elections known as Clean Elections in 1998. Under the system, a candidate collects a threshold number of signatures and small donations in order to qualify to receive public funds for their campaign. In return for the public funds, candidates must agree to abide by a spending limit.

Since the inception of Clean Elections, more voters have gone to the polls, more incumbents have been challenged by a greater number and diversity of challengers, and the dominance of wealthy special interests has been checked.

No candidate is required to sign up for the public financing. All do know, or darn well oughtta know, that the penalty for overspending the limit is removal from office. Rep. Smith, a five-time candidate, overspent those limits by 25%.

Without vigorous enforcement, the Clean Elections system would not work. Candidates could exploit the fact that an audit wouldn't reveal cheating until after the election. While the removal from office may seem stiff, it will rarely be clear that a candidate would have won the election without violating the rules.

If Smith deserves to be in office, the voters of his district can vote him back in the next election. In the meantime, they might ponder the wisdom of voting for a candidate who started off his legislative career by breaking a law that has worked so well for democracy in Arizona.

**UPDATE**

An editorial in The Arizona Republic agrees that if Smith violated the Clean Elections law as alleged, he should be given the boot from office.

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