- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona lawmakers want to ask voters to outright repeal the state’s public campaign financing commission, or at least limit its powers.

The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission is under threat from nearly every angle. Republican lawmakers, who have long chafed at the commission’s power, are running bills asking voters to repeal the commission, cut off its revenue stream, revoke its ability to lobby the Legislature and remove exemptions that limit oversight from elected officials.

“If you are messing with a politician’s money, you are going to be in the line of sight for that politician,” said Tom Collins, executive director of the commission, about the proposals Friday.

State elections director Eric Spencer said that while repeal may be unnecessary, the Secretary of State and the Legislature believe the commission needs more executive oversight.

“It is just ludicrous to let one Arizona agency be outside the law that applies to every other executive agency,” Spencer said.

So while Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, has taken the direct approach of introducing a measure asking voters to outright repeal the commission, Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, introduced a proposal asking voters to limit the commission’s power.

Warren’s measure would require the commission to undergo the same rule making process as every other executive agency. It would also prevent the commission from lobbying the Legislature.

Collins called the measure a “brilliant strategy” to stop the commission from communicating with the Legislature.

“The voters wanted a commission to make recommendations on the law so they expect the commission to be out there talking about the Clean Elections Act at the Legislature,” Collins said.

Sen. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, is sponsoring a measure that would ask voters to take a vast majority of the commission’s revenue and redirect into a fund for building schools. The commission currently uses the revenue, which is collected from a 10 percent surcharge on civil penalties and criminal fines, to publicly finance candidates.

Spencer said Dial’s measure is appropriate because of the commission’s unwillingness to work with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Legislature in areas such as campaign finance.

“They wouldn’t allow any reasonable common-sense reforms to take place,” he said. “I can understand how they (lawmakers) can resort to the nuclear option to defund the commission.”

Voters passed The Arizona Citizens Clean Election Act in 1998 to establish the non-partisan commission to educate voters and provide public funding for candidates running for office.

The decision to amend the act would also be left up to voters. Each of the Republican proposals would first have to pass through the Legislature before heading to the ballot as a voter referral. Because voters passed the act, the Legislature can’t change it without their approval.

Ugenti-Rita, Warren and Dial did not immediately return calls for comment.

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