The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake is Flat Wrong About Arizona Clean Elections

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By: David Donnelly and Adam Smith

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote a piece today about SB 1062, the controversial bill passed by the Arizona legislature that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers and others on the basis of “religious objections."

Citing political operatives and an Arizona Republican “granted anonymity to discuss the matter candidly,” Blake wrongly blames the state’s Clean Elections public financing program for a shift to the right and an embrace of extreme policies.

The reality is that the program has been severely limited in recent years by the Supreme Court, leading to fewer and fewer candidates using the system. And after comparing votes for this bill and Clean Elections participants, there appears to be no correlation at all between those elected in 2012 utilizing the system and those who voted for this controversial legislation.

That's the problem with citing anonymous political operatives--they don't have to get their facts straight.

  • The three main sponsors of SB 1062—Sens. Nancy Barto, Steve Yarbrough, and Bob Worsley—DID NOT PARTICIPATE in Clean Elections in 2012. In fact, the state’s leading business group, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, endorsed all three in their last election.
  • Ninety-two percent of Republicans in the legislature voted for the bill. Nearly eighty percent of those DID NOT PARTICIPATE in the Clean Elections system.
  • In fact, all of the Democrats that voted against the bill are supportive of, or have used, the Clean Elections system. 

Or, in other words, there’s no correlation.The problem isn’t with Clean Elections. It’s with the capture of the Republican Party of Arizona by those who are okay with discriminatory policies.

In fact, one only has to look at state legislatures across the country to see this is about the party at large. At least two states without public financing systems, Georgia and Kansas, have been debating a similar this year.

Arizona Republicans and Gov. Jan Brewer are facing enormous pressure to veto the offensive and politically embarrassing bill, so it’s understandable that GOP operatives are giving off-the-record quotes to national press to distance themselves from it. But if Arizona Republicans want someone to blame, they need to look in the mirror, not at Clean Elections, for their party has taken a sharp turn towards supporting extreme policies. To suggest otherwise without exploring the facts is sloppy journalism at best.  

Update, Feb 27: Gov. Brewer, who used Clean Elections to win her Secretary of State race, vetoed the bill on Wednesday. 

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David Donnelly is the executive director of Public Campaign Action Fund and Adam Smith is the communications director.