- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Fewer candidates for state offices are opting to participate in Arizona’s voluntary public campaign finance program.

Just under a third of the candidates for statewide and legislative offices ran with public funding this year, the Arizona Capitol Times (https://goo.gl/UhD02T ) reported.

That’s the lowest percentage since the program’s first year when just over a quarter of the candidates in 2000 used public funding.

Voters in 1998 approved an initiative measure creating the so-called “Clean Elections” system, which supporters said would help diminish the influence of special interests at the state Capitol. Candidates may either qualify for set amounts of public financing or run their campaigns under the traditional method of obtaining private contributions.

The 2014 level of candidates’ participation in the public system is in contrast to 2008, the program’s participation peak, when over 60 percent of candidates used public funding. Participation then dropped in 2010 and 2012.

Only 16 percent of the winning candidates in 2014 ran with public campaign funding - again the lowest percentage since 2000, when 13 percent of successful candidates ran publicly funded campaigns.

In contrast, most winners in 2008 ran with public funding.

Campaign consultants said a big factor behind the decrease in candidates’ participation was a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated additional public funding to participating candidates being outspent by privately funded opponents.

Consultants said a recent increase in limits on contributions to privately funded candidates also contributed to the decreased participation in public funding, but some said the high court’s elimination of matching funds was more important.

“The loss of matching funds is the reason that candidates are choosing not to run clean,” said Bert Coleman, a Republican campaign consultant.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett, an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, said he doesn’t think public financing will ever again be a realistic option for a gubernatorial campaign.

Bennett had higher statewide name recognition than his rivals at the start of a six-way Republican primary race, but his publicly financed campaign fell behind quickly when better funded opponents started bombarding the airwaves with ads.

Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said public funding is still a viable option for candidates. Though participation and success by Clean Elections candidates is down, Collins said there are many factors that determine who wins an election.

“We are in a universe that has changed since the Clean Elections Act was passed. But the tool of public financing remains in place for those who want to use it,” Collins said.

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, https://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com


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