PHOENIX -- Several Arizona Senate panels advanced legislation Tuesday that would let voters divert public campaign finance dollars toward schools in the latest effort to dismantle the state's Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
A Senate committee determined the bill was legal and moved it forward without debate. It was the first time House Concurrent Resolution 2026 had seen action in nearly two months. The delay had led critics to believe the effort was dead.
The bill asks voters to choose between public campaign finance dollars and education funding. If the full Senate approves the measure, it would be placed on the 2014 ballot. The GOP-led House passed the bill in March with a 31-27 vote.
It was advanced Tuesday by the Senate Rules Committee, the Senate Majority Caucus and the Senate Minority Caucus.
Todd Lang, director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said lawmakers who win office with public campaign dollars have repeatedly tried but failed to eliminate the program by placing it on a ballot.
``Once they get inside the clubhouse, they pull the ladder up behind them,'' Lang said. ``It would mean fewer choices. Candidates who aren't insiders or incumbents couldn't run for office.''
Lang called the latest effort to scuttle the funding a cynical move to trick voters by pitting the program against school funding. Lang said he isn't sure if a ballot measure could survive judicial scrutiny.
``The voters are smart enough to figure out they are being duped and they will reject it,'' he said.
The League of Women Voters of Arizona also opposes the measure.
Voters created Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Commission in 1998. It uses surcharges on criminal fines and civil penalties to provide funds for candidates for state office.
Participants qualify for public funding by gathering $5 contributions from eligible voters and agreeing to comply with spending and contribution limits.
Opponents of the commission argue the money would be better spent on public schools.
``We should let voters decide if Clean Elections has lived up to its promises,'' Republican Rep. Paul Boyer of Phoenix, the bill's sponsor, said during recent debate.