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Voting-rights groups slam bills on Clean Elections, ballot measures

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PHOENIX – A bill that would prohibit the Citizens Clean Elections Commission from investigating allegations of campaign contribution limit violations is part of a “war on voters” by Republican lawmakers, leaders of voter-rights groups said Wednesday.

At a news conference, the Arizona Advocacy Network also objected to a resolution that would put voter-approved laws back on the ballot after a set number of years.

Both bills received endorsements Tuesday on party-line votes by the Senate Elections Committee.

“There is a real power struggle today taking place in Arizona between the many and the money,” said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network. “Despite thousands of emails and the vast majority of testimony submitted to the Senate Elections Committee yesterday citizens lost a battle … with the passage of two bills.”

Wercinski said SB 1344, authored by Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, would undermine the voter-approved Clean Elections Act by preventing the commission from carrying out duties voters wanted it to perform. It would limit investigations into allegations of campaign contribution limit violations to the Attorney General’s Office and Secretary of State’s Office.

Clean Elections allows allows candidates for state office to receive public financing for campaigns if they receive a set number of $5 donations and agree to forgo private donations and participate in public debates. Most of the money comes from a surcharge on civil penalties and criminal fines.

“It’s important to note that right-wing, wealthy individuals like the Koch brothers and corporate groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), fund these politicians,” he said. “In exchange, big money gets access, influence … at the expense of taxpayers and working voters.”

Carmen Cornejo, a Chicanos por la Causa board member and small business owner, said fellow small business owners and working voters aren’t served well by lawmakers beholden to special interests.

“As an immigrant and proud American, I have worked very hard to be successful and contribute to my family’s future and future of my community,” she said. “I came to Arizona believing it was a place of equal opportunity. The Legislature has shown me this is not completely true.”

In a telephone interview, Pierce said claims made at the news conference are untrue.

“Anytime anyone challenges the Clean Elections Act someone takes it as challenging the will of the people,” he said. “They don’t have power to make new rules beyond the statutes. They don’t have that authority to make new rules.”

SCR 1003, authored by Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, seeks to have voters reauthorize ballot measures that involve money. If approved by voters, the change would make such ballot measures valid only for the remainder of the fiscal year in which they are approved and the following eight fiscal years.

Crandell didn’t return a telephone message by late Wednesday afternoon.

Wercinski and others who spoke at the news conference urged lawmakers to block measures that they said seek to thwart the will of voters.

“Arizonans have always been a very populist-driven government,” Wercinski said. “But if Arizona voters and Americans in general sit idle and watch big money control the system, then we will completely lose government of, by and for the people.”