Arizona’s “clean elections” campaign finance “reform” champion not so clean?

cross-posted at: http://www.campaignfreedom.org/blog/

Last week I wrote about Doug Quelland, a Republican state legislator in Arizona who is in danger of having the Arizona Clean Elections Commission nullify the voters’ decision and toss him out for allegedly failing to comply with the rules of Arizona’s so-called clean elections program. In that post I wrote about my concerns regarding this effort to deny the voters in Arizona’s 10th District the person they elected to office.

Those concerns remain, but yesterday I saw a news article on the case that adds an interesting (amusing?) twist to the story – Doug Quelland, you see, is described in this article as a “champion” of the “clean elections” program. He is also described as someone in hot water over his apparently false testimony to the Clean Elections Commission:

Clean Elections champion under scrutiny over contract

New evidence presented to the state’s Clean Elections Commission appears to contradict a key defense of state Rep. Doug Quelland in a case that could cost him thousands of dollars in fines and possible loss of his seat.

Quelland, R-northwest Phoenix, has denied allegations that he failed to report a $15,000 contract he signed with campaign consultant Larry Davis – a violation of the state’s public-financing campaign laws.

Quelland said he hired Davis in March 2007, but only briefly, firing him within 48 hours. He said he disagreed with Davis’ proposed campaign tactics and never paid Davis a dime, even though their contract included a $2,000 termination clause.

But Davis late last week produced bank records that show he deposited a check for $2,000 from Quelland’s business, Q-Land Enterprises Inc., into his Compass Bank account on May 1, 2007. That is nearly two months after Quelland said he cancelled his contract with Davis…

Quelland repeated his assertion that he did not violate the state’s public-financing laws – which he has championed – when he testified before the Clean Elections Commission last week.

And allegations that “clean elections” champion Quelland may have engaged in some shenanigans in his pursuit of office are not confined to the dispute over the Davis contract. Margarite Dale was the Green Party candidate in Quelland’s district, funded by “clean elections” taxpayer dollars. A month ago, we noted a report by the Phoenix News on the games being played at taxpayer expense:

Arizona Progressives Slam “Clean Elections” Program

…Far more insidious is the very strange case of Margarite Dale, [a] housewife turned Green Party candidate.

When Dale filed papers to run, [Democratic candidate Jackie] Thrasher thought it was no big deal. “I saw a Green candidate had filed, and I thought, ‘Good for them,'” she says. “Having a number of options and a number of different candidates, that’s how it should be.”

Until, that is, Thrasher got a call from a real Green Party activist. Celeste Castarena told Thrasher that she and her fellow party members had never heard of Margarite Dale. When they did a little research, Castarena reported, they’d learned that Dale had changed her voter registration to Green just days after the Greens qualified for Clean Elections funding.

Prior to that, Margarite Dale had been a Republican.

… On the ballot, Dale was still listed as Green Party. And, because real Green Party volunteers had earned Clean Elections status for their party, Dale was awarded a massive infusion of funds. Simply by registering as a Green candidate and gathering 200 token contributions, Dale was granted $68,531 in public money for her “campaign.”

Evidence suggests that Dale’s candidacy was the ultimate dirty trick – a dastardly plot by the Republican candidates to siphon votes from Thrasher…

[Dale]… got 2,358 votes… enough to make a difference. Jackie Thrasher lost her House seat by a fraction of that – just 553 votes.

Thrasher, Dale, and Quelland were all candidates in the 10th District. It’s not terribly implausible to believe that Dale’s apparently faux Green Party campaign, funded by the “clean elections” program, siphoned off some votes from Thrasher, perhaps even enough to tilt the election to Quelland.

Quelland is apparently such a fan of “clean elections” that he appeared on NOW with Bill Moyers touting the program. From the show description:

… Airing less than three weeks before Americans go to the polls, “Votes for Sale?” will spotlight the so-called clean elections movement, a radical public-funding experiment adopted in Maine and Arizona to revolutionize how campaigns are conducted…

Pushing special interest money out of the election process may do more than clean things up. It could also open the door for a variety of people who care about democracy to run for office with realistic hopes of winning. Case in point: Arizona State Representative Doug Quelland, a conservative Republican who supports clean elections by his own example. With a background in public school teaching and running a handful of neighborhood businesses, including a lawnmower repair shop, Quelland captured voter interest door-to-door armed only with his passion and point of view. He’s now running for his third term in the state legislature… “I don’t want to owe anybody anything. I don’t want to have to have the special interests. I just want to do it and not beholden to anybody,” Rep. Quelland told NOW.

Well, Quelland is and always has been beholden to the voters of the 10th District, and he may now owe them an explanation and an apology. While it’s still extremely troubling that the Clean Elections Commission appears ready to remove an elected official from office, rather than letting voters decide who will represent them, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for “clean elections champion” Doug Quelland.

No, the people to feel sympathy for are the voters of the 10th District, who thanks to “clean elections” have been deprived of an honest campaign and election, with the shenanigans paid for with public dollars.

Sean Parnell


Center for Competitive Politics


[email protected]