Monday, November 9, 2015

Update on dark money initiative

The AZ Daily Sun reviews the issue, the current status of the initiative proposed byTerry Goddard's group, and raises some questions that should be embarrassing to anyone advocating for dark money being free speech. Here are two examples.

Jurisdiction over dark money

The Secretary of State race saw $300,000 in last-minute secret attack ads against Democrat Terry Goddard, who was campaigning against dark money. He lost, and the Republican winner, Michelle Reagan, now says she doesn’t think the state has jurisdiction over dark money groups as long as they have obtained a nonprofit social welfare tax exemption from the IRS. (Officials in neighboring California, Colorado and New Mexico all have disagreed and moved successfully to force dark money disclosure.)

Clean Elections Commission power

Stepping into the regulatory vacuum has been the state Clean Elections Commission. It was given the power by voters in 1998 after the AzScam scandals to reduce the influence of big money in politics by setting up publicly funded campaigns. That includes regulating campaign finance, and last week it adopted a rule requiring any committee spending more than half its communication budget on a political race to disclose its funding sources.

That seems reasonable to us, especially if the commission interprets electioneering to mean any reference to a candidate or a ballot issue, not just so-called " express advocacy" that includes phrases like "vote for" or "vote against." That is how the social welfare groups have escaped disclosure so far.

Secretary of State Regan opposed the rule as intruding on the jurisdiction of her office, even though she has conceded she doesn’t think she has any jurisdiction over dark money. Thus, it can’t be called a turf battle if one side doesn’t plan to defend any turf it happens to win.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce opposed the new rule: "We're going to vigorously defend our right to participate in the process,'' said Glenn Hamer, president of the Chamber.

In response, we’d ask Hamer what are he and his members trying to hide – and why? Is the chamber, referring back to Justice Scalia, advocating a different form a courageous self-governance than the Founding Fathers had in mind?

The Dark Money initiative

SCOTUS, in their ruling on Citizens United, relied on legislative action to force transparency about campaign finance. Good luck with that. In the absence of such action, Terry Goddard is pushing for a citizen's initiative.

Here comes the Sun.

At this point, Goddard and his group,, are still fine-tuning the language, which will require more than 150,000 signatures to make the ballot. And the initiative will no doubt be targeted by the very dark money it seeks to expose. The Legislature or Secretary of State could head off the initiative by taking action next spring. The fact that they almost surely won’t says volumes about the health of representative democracy in Arizona and why a dose of transparency will at least help voters make a more informed diagnosis at the polls.

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