Jan 31, 2024 - News

Popularity of Clean Elections campaign funding has been in decline for years

Illustration of hand with a disappearing $100 dollar bill.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Clean Elections was once a dominant force in Arizona electoral politics, but participation waned dramatically over the past decade.

Catch up quick: Under the system passed by voters, candidates would qualify for Clean Elections funding by collecting a minimum number of $5 contributions from voters.

  • Qualifying candidates receive lump sums for the primary election and again for the general if needed.
  • What made the original system especially lucrative was matching funds — a dollar-for-dollar match candidates received if their public funding was eclipsed by privately funded opponents or outside groups.

Yes, but: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked matching funds in 2010 and ruled the system was unconstitutional the following year.

  • In 2013, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law dramatically increasing Arizona's campaign contribution limits, which were among the lowest in the country.
  • The combination of those factors has made Clean Elections funding far less advantageous, and candidates have increasingly opted for traditional campaign financing.

By the numbers: In 2008, the last election cycle in which matching funds were available, 33 of 57 Senate candidates (57.9%) and 79 of 122 House candidates (64.8%) used Clean Elections funding, according to the Arizona News Service Political Almanac for 2022.

  • The majority of statewide candidates took public funding in 2002 and 2006.
  • In 2012, the first election cycle after matching funds were struck down, only 34.4% of Senate candidates and 36.1% of House candidates were publicly funded, and those numbers dropped to 19.3% and 16.9%, respectively, in 2020, the last year for which the almanac has data.
  • No candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer or mine inspector used Clean Elections in 2022. Two of four superintendent of public instruction candidates were publicly funded.

But, but, but: The one exception has been the Corporation Commission, where all five candidates in 2022 used Clean Elections and six of seven did in 2020.

State of play: While the commission's role in funding campaigns has declined, it's continued to be a presence in elections by sponsoring debates, engaging in voter education and enforcing campaign finance laws.

  • Commissioner Amy Chan told Axios Phoenix the commission is "way more than matching funds. For those who can run their races with it, obviously there's still some value there."
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