The last campaign finance reports that the public will see before the election are in, and based on how much he’s raised, Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Garcia has good cause to regret not running with Clean Elections.
Candidates who want to forgo fundraising from individuals and political action committees can instead run with Clean Elections, Arizona’s system of public campaign funding. To qualify for public funding, candidates must collect a minimum number of $5 contributions to demonstrate support for their campaign. They submit those qualifying contributions to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which provides them with a lump sum of cash for their campaigns. Primary election winners get a second disbursement for the general election.
In his most recent campaign finance report on Monday, Garcia reported that he raised $368,000 from Oct. 1-20, the last reporting period before the election. That brings his total fundraising for the 2018 election to $2,173,513.
Had he run with Clean Elections, Garcia would have received a maximum of $2,158,080, a figure that includes nearly $840,000 for the primary, more than $1.2 million for the general election, and nearly $59,000 in private contributions, which Clean Elections candidates are allowed to raise from individuals in increments of no more than $160.
Garcia has raised just $15,433 more than he would have gotten from Clean Elections, not counting any money he brings in between Oct. 21 and Election Day. And the nearly $1.1 million he’s raised since the primary is less than he would have gotten for the general election if he’d run with public funding.
But the benefit that Garcia would have gotten from Clean Elections can’t be measured in dollars alone. He could have submitted his qualifying contributions as early as Jan. 1 and spent the past 10 months focusing on other aspects of his campaign. Instead, he’s spent unnecessary time and money on fundraising.
Sarah Elliott, a spokeswoman for Garcia’s campaign, declined to comment on whether Garcia would have been better off running with Clean Elections.
Clean Elections used to be a far more appealing system for candidates. From its launch in 2000 through 2008, publicly funded candidates not only received lump sums for their campaigns, but also got “matching funds” that provided dollar-for-dollar matches if they were outspent by privately funded opponents or the outside independent expenditure groups that supported them. But the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the matching funds system as an unconstitutional infringement on traditionally funded candidates’ free speech rights.
Participation in the Clean Elections system has dropped every year as a result.
A massive increase in Arizona’s campaign contributions limits in 2013 has further disincentivized participation in Clean Elections.
While some candidates, especially Republicans, eschew public financing out of ideological opposition to the idea of government-funded candidates, others in the post-matching-funds era have shied away from it out of the belief that Clean Elections is no longer viable. But that conventional wisdom has been put to the test in 2018, and Garcia is not the only candidate who would have been better served running with public funding instead of traditional fundraising.
Frank Riggs, the Republican nominee for superintendent of public instruction, has raised $169,000, including about $66,000 that he loaned his campaign. Clean Elections would have provided him with $108,779 for the GOP primary and another $163,169 for the general election. His Democratic opponent, Kathy Hoffman, ran with Clean Elections, giving her nearly $300,000 for her campaign.
Republican Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson has raised about $152,000 — nearly $72,000 was left over from his old legislative campaign committee — whereas he would have had as much as $300,000 if he’d run with Clean Elections. The two Democrats in the race, Sandra Kennedy and Kiana Sears, are both running with Clean Elections, while Rodney Glassman, the other Republican, has raised $811,000 for his campaign with traditional fundraising, including a loan of $200,000 that he made to his campaign.
And in the race for state mine inspector, Democrat Bill Pierce got about $139,000 in Clean Elections funding, out-raising three-term Republican incumbent Joe Hart, who has raised about $25,000 through traditional fundraising.