The Arizona Republic noted today:
In a historic move, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission voted
Thursday to oust state Rep. David Burnell Smith from office for
overspending his public campaign limits by more than $6,000.
The 5-0 vote marks the first time in the United States that a
legislator has been ordered to forfeit his office for violating a
publicly financed election system.
I don't know anything about Mr. Smith, so I don't know if I would agree with any of his politics or not -- I suspect though that he and I would not see eye to eye on a number of issues. This case nevertheless leaves me with mixed feelings.
On one side, Mr. Smith signed on to the clean elections program (he doesn't have to) and accepted public funding, and thereby accepted spending limits. He was obviously sloppy (as a minimum) in his accounting, or at worst flaunted the restrictions.
However, on the opposite side, I hate this type of campaign law. I don't like any restrictions on spending, which equate to limitations on first amendment speech rights. I don't even like voluntary programs like this, because they use public money - read that as MY money - to finance candidates and viewpoints that I don't necessarily agree with. In these voluntary programs, candidates are effectively being offered a publicly funded bribe to waive their first amendment rights, as argued in this suit. I don't like seeing this next step in the arms race to limit political speech. The ability of an unelected commision of busybodies and nitpickers to actually invalidate free elections and toss out elected officials merely because they used $6000 too much free speech is scary. Would anyone in their right mind wish to grant this power to the FEC?
By the way, the language in the Republic article is funny, and shows their bias in this. Note this line, emphasis added:
The commission's vote comes after three months of scrutiny in what has
been billed as the biggest test for Arizona's popular but controversial
system of taxpayer-funded political campaigns.
Here is a hint: whenever a reporter calls a program "popular", it means that it is a program that the reporter or the paper's editorial staff supports. It does not mean that they have polling data backing up this claim. Don't believe me? Then note this line from the same article:
Some commissioners admitted they were reluctant to attempt to overturn
the wishes of voters in a legislative district but said it was more
important to uphold the wishes of the state's voters, who narrowly
approved the Clean Elections initiative in 1998.
Ahh, so this "popular" program was only "narrowly approved". In fact, I looked it up. Smith won his election by a far larger margin of victory than did the Clean Elections initiative. Should the AZ Republic be calling him the "popular" legislator?