WASHINGTON – For former Arizona state representative Matt Heinz,raising money to get into office wasn’t easy.
“You do it going door to door,” Heinz said.
Heinz,now the director of provider outreach in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services,spent seven months knocking on 5,000 doors during the 2008 campaign asking for $5 campaign contributions. Once he had 250 of those donations,under Arizona’s so-called “clean elections” law,he won a spot on the ballot and $19,382 in state contributions to his campaign.
He told his story Monday at the New America Foundation during a discussion of a book about the clean-election concept.
“That is something that was really for me,very personally rewarding,and I can tell you that,basically,all I did was voter contact,” Heinz said.
Talking to voters on their doorsteps to fund campaigns is common in seven states,including Arizona,Connecticut and Maine,which work with lesser-known candidates to create elections with limited spending.
The new laws came after scandals.
“Roughly 10 state legislators were caught selling their votes to casinos in Arizona,and clean elections were put on the ballot in 1994 and passed by initiatives,” Michael Miller,assistant professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois Springfield,said.
Some states fund the entire campaign after a candidate raises a certain amount of money. Other states fund up to half.
During a discussion about his book,“Subsidizing Democracy: How Public Funding Changes Elections and How It Can Work in the Future,” Miller said there are benefits for candidates who participate in these programs.
“These subsidies give them more time,” Miller said. “They free candidates up so they can focus on voters instead of donors.”
Heinz said his campaign helped inform voters.
“I got to teach people about what this program was,what it did,how it empowered them,how it got some of the excess money out of the system,and I got 250 contributions going door to door and then continued that,” Heinz said.
When he ran for re-election in 2012,Heinz raised money through more traditional methods.
“The entire time,I was in a windowless room,on the phone,trying to beat money out of people,and it was frustrating,” Heinz said. “I mean,I don’t know how I didn’t burn through more staff because it was very,very frustrating,and I don’t think I knocked on a single door.”
Heinz said he preferred the clean-elections method.
“It definitely worked,and in this case it was able to help a candidate like me with absolutely no connection whatsoever to networked politics,” Heinz said. … My experience has been very positive with the system.”
Other states,such as Massachusetts and Vermont,tried to create clean-elections systems. The Massachusetts system was repealed by the state legislature,and Vermont’s was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds.
“The future has changed not only because of the court,but because you cannot restrict the outside funding system of politics,” Michael Malbin,executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute,said.
“If you want elections to be slightly closer and have more candidates running,it’s a win,” Miller said. “If you want incumbents to be losing at higher rates,it is not working.”
Both Malbin and Miller said partial funding,when candidates can get both state and personally raised funds,is the future of state campaign finance.
“The new kind of flavor of public funding will be the small-donor matching programs like in New York City,” Miller said. “The city matches small donors six to one. This encourages more people to have a stake in the public process.”
Reach reporter Caitlin Turner at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.