AZ Elected Official Bounced for Overspending in Campaign

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? 

  • markm

    He accepted the rules, he broke the rules, he forfeited the game.

    However, public funds should not be used to fund political campaigns in the first place. Both public funding and spending restrictions always work out to the advantage of the incumbents, and furthermore help the Democrats and Republicans maintain their joint monopoly over politics and ignore any outside ideas (like actually making government smaller, or protecting all of our rights).

  • http://amendment10.tripod.com Ben DoubleCrossed

    I believe the following excerpt about the "press exemption", from Senator Mitch McConnell, is relevant:

    Section 431(9)(B)(i) makes a distinction where there is no real difference: the media is extremely powerful by any measure, a "special interest" by any definition, and heavily engaged in the "issue advocacy" and "independent expenditure" realms of political persuasion that most editorial boards find so objectionable when anyone other than a media outlet engages in it. To illustrate the absurdity of this special exemption the media enjoys, I frequently cite as an example the fact that if the RNC bought NBC from GE the FEC would regulate the evening news and, under the McCain-Feingold "reform" bill, Tom Brokaw could not mention a candidate 60 days before an election. This is patently absurd.

    Had the Senate debate on the McCain-Feingold bill advanced to the point of amendments, among the first I offered would have been one to delete section 431(9)(B)(i). Whenever the opportunity presents itself in the future, I look forward to doing just that. I believe it would be an enlightening discussion. Indeed, the issue was frequently raised during the floor debates in 1997 and 1998 and helped to crystallize for Senators and the C-SPAN viewing audience that the campaign finance debate is, indeed, a discussion of core constitutional freedom." Excerpt from Mitch McConnell's July 8, 1998 letter to his constituent Richard Lewis. - http://amendment10.tripod.com/mitch4.htm