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News ::
Campaign fun(ding) (english)
02 May 2003
Three Libertarians got really liberal with Clean Election money; but let's not overreact
Campaign fun(ding)
The Arizona Republic, May 2, 2003

There is a Hollywood script treatment here.

Three political party boys gone wild - a trio of fun-loving, libertine Libertarians - tap into Arizona's new system for publicly funding campaigns, Clean Elections, to the tune of $104,000.

Overnight, they literally reinvent the concept of the political campaign. And they do it badly: spending thousands at nightclubs outside their districts, thousands on really cool office and computer equipment, tens of thousands on postage for mailings that were never mailed and tens of thousands more for Nevada consultants who did . . . who knows what.

Their campaigns for the state Legislature, of course, crash spectacularly.

In the process, however, the Libertarian party boys raise an interesting question about Clean Elections. It's one that presumably never would have come up if the libertine Libertarians had been spending money they raised themselves: At what point does a publicly funded political candidate become transformed into a pig at the public trough?

At what point, in other words, did Paul DeDonati, Trevor Clevenger and Yuri Downing cease to run real campaigns for District 27, and when did it all become just a really good excuse to party with other people's money?

In this case, the answer appears pretty obvious. As Downing observed, the fellows did not "hire strippers to dance on rooftops." It's surprising they didn't. The boys made very little effort to document what they spent, and the suspicion is, considering their spending habits, it probably was smarter not to leave much of a paper trail.

But although Clean Elections comes out relatively clean in the end - pending appeal, the Libertarian party boys will have to pay back the money, plus interest - the incident may spawn bigger problems.

Embarrassed public institutions have a way of trying to fix problems with ever-more-sweeping and complex rules. The fear is that the system's burdensome rule book governing how candidates can spend money will become even thicker as a result.

Theoretically, there is nothing wrong with running a novel campaign. A decade ago, Democratic legislative candidate Sue Laybe won her central Phoenix district by appealing to the gay vote, a previously untapped resource.

Sometimes real candidates spend Clean Elections money badly (see: gubernatorial candidate Dick Mahoney's attack ads of last fall).

Sometimes they spend it strangely (see: the Screen Actors Guild dues paid by state Mining Inspector Doug Martin's Clean Elections fund).

And sometimes they spend it wrongly (see: Libertarians gone wild).

Only candidates falling into the last category need to get their knuckles rapped. Fortunately, it appears the system already is capable of dealing with such bad boys.
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