Finding a sanctuary in Clean Elections

Nov. 15, 2002

No doubt about it. The three guys had fun spending more than $83,000 of taxpayer money running for the state Legislature.

"If it hadn't been fun, I wouldn't have done it at all," says Yuri Downing, who persuaded two friends to run as Libertarian candidates out of District 17, which covers parts of Tempe and Scottsdale.

Under the Clean Elections law, their coffers were filled with government money. Downing, a Senate candidate, got $29,696. His roommates Trevor Clevenger and Paul DeDonati, both House candidates, each received $26,970.

But now the three face the not-so-fun possibility of an investigation into their spending.

Next week, the Clean Elections Commission will vote on whether to audit the trio's campaign reports.

That means Downing, Clevenger and DeDonati will have to defend expenditures such as these:

$216.45 for a meal at Ra Sushi Bar in Scottsdale.

$4,304 in supplies for all three campaigns from Office Max.

$850 in campaign photography.

$5,500 for consulting work on all three campaigns by Demitri Downing, brother of Yuri.

$366 for meals at downtown Scottsdale hot spots, such as Sanctuary, Opium, Pearl and Axis/Radius.

Not to mention the thousands given to friends for doing unspecified "office work" on the campaigns.

Downing says all the expenses are legitimate.

"I followed the letter of the law," he says.

And that's the problem.

The Clean Elections law allows political newcomers to jump into the political proc ess by handing them thousands in free money and letting them spendit in a way they see fit so long as they can justify it as a campaign expense.

These three will surely be held up as poster boys by those who want to junk the Clean Elections law.

Not because opponents of Clean Elections are necessarily stewards of public money.

They just don't want any political newcomers running for office.

Downing says his expense report looks unusual because he ran an unusual campaign. "I had to," he says.

Downing runs a magazine called 944, which chronicles the high-end club scene populated by attractive 20-somethings and 30-somethings. He figured it was an untapped market for votes and thought he would go after it.

"We were at Opium registering people to vote," he says. "We went all out on this because that's where we thought our core was. . . . The hope was that it could get their attention."

Part of that attention-getting was through the witty campaign slogans, dreamed up mainly by his brother, a political consultant in Tucson. The signs read, "No new taxes - less old taxes" and "Don't vote and the weirdo in the next car votes for you."

The trio didn't expect to win. But they hoped to bring some new people into the political process.

Their Election Day totals show they didn't have much success, but Downing is glad they tried. It's what Clean Elections is all about.

"I met probably 5,000 people who never met a candidate for state Senate or state Legislature," Downing says.

Get rid of Clean Elections and it's back to the old way, where candidates are bought and paid for by corporate interests, leading to a tax code full of loopholes for big business and a state deficit of $500 million.

Compared to that price, $83,000 spent on opening up the political races looks like a bargain.

Reach Ruelas at or at (602) 444-8473.

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