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Ruth Jones wins prestigious ethics award

December 29, 2009

Former President Jimmy Carter has one. And so do Sens. John McCain, Russ Feingold and Cal Levin.

Now, Ruth Jones, Arizona State University professor of politics and global studies, joins that company as the latest recipient of the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) Award.

Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, Los Angeles, presented the award to Jones during a luncheon ceremony at the Fairmont Scottsdale Dec. 7.

COGEL is the preeminent organization of government ethics administrators. Members include governmental entities responsible for ethics, government transparency, elections, lobbying, campaign finance and judicial conduct; individuals and organizations involved in government ethics; and honorary members.

The COGEL Award is the highest form of recognition conferred by the organization, Stern said. Recipients must have made a ”demonstrable and positive contribution to the fields of campaign finance, ethics, elections, lobbying or freedom of information over a significant period of time.”

Jones is being given the award for her work as an ASU professor specializing in campaign financing and for her work on the Arizona Citizens Clean Election Commission, according to Stern.

“Ruth’s extensive teaching and research in fields of campaign finance, American politics and interest groups are reflected in her many publications, including books, journal articles and papers, as well as participation in several national conference," he said.

“Ruth is truly a pioneer; she was one of the first women political scientists to study campaign financing and one of the first political scientists (male or female) to examine state campaign financing.”

As with many things in life, Jones’s involvement with state campaign financing was serendipitous. It began when she was on the faculty at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and was appointed to a gubernatorial task force that was charged with looking in to the funding of state elections.

“One topic we explored, and I took an active lead on, was public funding of state level campaigns,” Jones said. “That tweaked my interest and when I got my first sabbatical, I went to Washington, D.C., and began blocking out a research agenda focusing on public funding of state elections.

“There was very little scholarly literature available but there was a lot of interest in public funding. So I applied for a National Science Foundation grant and was successful and then I was off and running."

As she began to publish her research, word got out and she was invited to testify for legislative committees in states that wanted to develop public election funding, and then groups started sending her drafts of legislation for comment.

“Once the initiative was approved by the voters of Arizona, some of the initiative sponsors asked me to consider serving on the new Citizens Clean Elections Commission,” Jones said. “I was quite interested but I was then working in President Lattie Coor’s office. I asked him what he thought about me serving on the commission and he was very encouraging. So I threw my hat in the ring for nominations and was appointed by then Attorney General Janet Napolitano.

“The commission had public support but not necessarily political support so we had a tough time getting the basic things we needed to start the commission’s work,” she said. “In fact, we could not find anyone who would give us a room in which to hold our first meeting so the very first meeting of the Arizona Citizen’s Clean Election Commission was held in the ASU Memorial Union!”

Jones said serving on the commission added many hours to her day, but the payoff, besides service to the state, was “real-life” experience to bring into her classroom.

“I am one of the lucky academics who has had a chance to put theory into practice,” she said. ”My four years on the commission (one year as chair) truly deepened my understanding of state-level campaign finance in ways that pure research efforts alone could not.

“Moreover, at the time I was teaching classes on money and politics so my experiences as a commissioner informed and enriched my classroom activities as well. I am so grateful that I had this opportunity and I hope I brought some value to the activities of the commission.”

Jones also has been involved in a number of COGEL activities, such as participating on panel presentations, and she served on the COGEL Steering Committee as a non-governmental member.

Stern said, as he presented the award to Jones, “Arizona is a model in the public financing of elections movement. The commission has run a highly successful public financing program, which has served as a prototype for many new proposals and laws.

“It is much harder to administer and enforce a program than it is to research and critique it. Those in the research community should always try to do both as Ruth Jones has done so successfully. Her professional career is one that other political scientists should emulate. Unlike some other political scientists, she believes in the reform work that COGEL members are doing and administering.”