PHOENIX -- For the first time in at least three tries, Arizona voters rejected a change to the electoral process billed as a reform.
Preliminary results showed Proposition 121 going down to defeat.
Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson blamed the loss on $600,000 of out-of-state funding that was funneled through Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership. The real source, though, was a Virginia-based group linked to conservative and Republican causes.
Johnson said he believed the measure would be swept along by the ever-increasing number of Arizonans who have chosen not to affiliate with either major party. He said they have been disenfranchised by the current political system.
That system allows each party to nominate its own candidates. The winners of each party's primary then face off in the general election.
Proposition 121 would have created a wide-open primary including all candidates from all parties, with the top two advancing to November.
Johnson, a former Democrat turned independent, said that would give more a voice to independents who currently outnumber Democrats.
But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who led the opposition, said voters did not believe the change would make things better.
He noted that Arizonans have done everything from limiting campaign donations to creating an independent redistricting commission, all in the name of making the process better or more open.
"This time around, Arizona voters said we're not going to get fooled again,' he said.
Johnson, however, said it was just an example of the well-funded special interests getting their way. He cited reports which linked the ultimate source of the cash to brothers Robert and David Koch who have bankrolled many conservative causes.
He said he met with many businesses in an effort to create a broad-based coalition. Johnson said that, coupled with support of others like firefighters and community groups, would carry the day.
"It never dawned on us to meet with the Koch brothers,' he said.
A spokeswoman for the brothers said Tuesday neither they nor their corporation put any money into defeating Proposition 121.
Johnson said he's not convinced. And he said he expects them and their allies to play an increasing role in Arizona politics.
"What I think is clear to me is getting their permission (for electoral changes) is probably going to become more important,' he said.
But some of Johnson's problems were closer to home.
None of the political parties were particularly pleased with the measure. But the Republicans, who have more registered voters than anyone else, mounted an active effort to defeat it.
What is Mr. Johnson talking about? There was no campaign against Prop. 121. At least none that I could find.
There was no general information website. No general information mailing. Not even a Top Two background ad in the newspapers. Voters not into serious web crawling had nothing to go on except their voter information guides and a few scattered articles and editorials. Topping this off, the 11th-hour Americans for Responsible Leadership donations were pure political farce. Since when do a couple of unemployed politicians and an investment banker suddenly start tossing money around without creating a backlash?
We're all very lucky Arizona isn't Chicago - or California. But hang onto your 2012 General Election Guides, gang. Mr. Johnson doesn't seem to realize that even $600,000 can't begin to buy 67% of the vote in Arizona.
Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012
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I can't help wondering...
Why is CMS correspondent Howard Fisher being so coy? VI readers don't have to rely on Paul Johnson's inferences. The larger, $11 million flap in California is all over the Internet.
Last Monday, Arizona-based Americans for Responsible Leadership informed the California Supreme Court their donation funds came from the Arizona-based Center to Protect Patients' Rights (a conservative-leaning 501(c)4 NPO with a known personal connection to Koch Industries), who got it from Virginia-based Americans for Job Security (a conservative-leaning 501(c)4 NPO with known political connections to Karl Rove). Inquiring minds can find plenty to contemplate under the key phrases "dark money" and "shadow funds." (See VI articles "California commission sues Arizona political group" Oct. 31 and "Judge rules Arizona group playing politics in California must reveal its donors" Nov. 1)
What isn't readily available is a list of Americans for Job Security donors. Like the Michael Bloomberg-connected Committee for a Unified Independent Party, the Warren Buffett-connected BoatUS Foundation, and George Soros-connected The Tides Foundation, that's privileged information. Which simply means it's a job for web sleuths and extrapolators.
What isn't clear is whether national and state protections of NPO donors' privacy take precedence over states' campaign finance regulations...and whether one state's regulations supersede another's. These very complex questions seem to be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. Not only that, the basic disclosure issue could help improve the way all campaigns are financed.
Since former Mayor Johnson has said repeatedly that his only aim is to improve Arizona's government, it would be wonderful if he could move past Top Two campaigns and help real opponents of "Top One" government drag all of our dark money into the light. I'll bet Arizona has a far better chance of leading the nation in this area than California does.