This morning’s editorial in the GV News by Dan Shearer is really, really, really good. FROM THE EDITOR: Let’s bring an end to ‘dark money’. He’s on board, totally, with Terry Goddard’s dark money initiative. Here is the editorial.
Money influences elections. Sometimes it flat-out buys them.
That’s no secret. But whose money is doing the influencing is often impossible to discern. And, thanks to the Legislature, it’s not getting any easier in Arizona.
Terry Goddard wants to end that. He’s a former Phoenix mayor and state attorney general, and he’s tired of dark money — he calls it “dirty money” — calling the shots.
Dark money is a campaign contribution where the donor isn’t disclosed. Nobody knows who’s really behind the donations because the cash is often funneled through non-profits, which are not required to disclose donors, or super PACs, which can raise an unlimited amount of money. Goddard calls this money laundering.
The 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling opened the flood gates when it decided that donating to a campaign is protected under the First Amendment right to free speech. That means unions and corporations can spend whatever they wanted on political activities as long as they don’t collaborate with a party or candidate. That’s where most of the nasty fliers and TV commercials come from.
But Citizens United didn’t say they could hide their campaign spending, though that’s what it has come to, at least in Arizona.
What has this done to elections? The Brennan Center for Justice analyzed 10 Senate races in 2014, and found outside spending had doubled since 2010 — to $486 million. Outside groups (dark money) tossed in 47 percent of that. Much of that spending comes from outside the state where the election is being held. People who don’t live where you live are calling the shots in your elections. That’s fine as long as we know who the donors are.
But like Goddard said in a visit to Green Valley earlier this year, “In any debate, the first thing you should know is who you’re debating.”
He also said the cost of running a campaign has gone up five times since 2010’s Citizens United ruling.
“It basically meant that millionaires and billionaires became the political class going forward,” he said.
There’s another example much closer to home of dark money running amok.
APS and its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., don’t have to disclose campaign contributions thanks to Citizens United. They will neither confirm nor deny that they were behind more than $3 million in donations that helped get two Republicans elected to the five-member Arizona Corporation Commission in 2014 — that’s the board that sets utility rates, and APS is a utility. APS then spent millions more to get three others elected in 2016. The ACC now has five GOP members.
The ACC then approved a rate hike that allowed APS to rake in an estimated $95 million more from customers.
APS can’t be forced to open its books because the Arizona Corporation Commission — the board it helped elect with its millions of dollars in campaign contributions — has declined to enforce a subpoena.
Funny how that happens.
Tempe residents felt so strong about dark money influence that in March, they voted by a 91 percent margin to amend the city’s charter to require independent groups spending more than $1,000 on local elections to disclose their donors.
The state Legislature tanked that effort a few weeks later when Gov. Ducey signed legislation that pre-empts those types of local ordinances. The Tempe vote was rendered meaningless.
Ducey, who received more than $3 million from dark-money groups in his 2014 campaign, called it a win for free speech. (Four House Republicans and every Democrat voted against the bill.)
What’s the argument for allowing undisclosed campaign contributions? People who attach their names to a donation might get bullied, the governor says. Maybe we could edge closer to the truth by suggesting that companies putting millions of dollars into political campaigns don’t want their customers to know where their profits are going.
The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, can do no better than Ducey in laying out a defense for dark money. It says the dark-money proposals are overly broad and a violation of the right to privacy. But not much more than that.
The bottom line is that there is no rational defense for dark money — and there’s plenty of dark money on both sides, by the way.
Goddard says nothing less than a change to the state Constitution will fix the problem.
In short, his initiative calls for anybody making a campaign contribution over $10,000 in a two-year election cycle to “promptly disclose the identity of all original sources of major contributions used to fund that expenditure.”
In other words, the person who started the ball rolling on a donation that’s fed through non-profits or a super PAC would be identified.
They need 225,000 valid signatures by July 5 to get it on the November ballot, but are looking for 300,000 by June 5.
Locally, voters registered in Pima County (any party) can sign. You can find a petition at Democratic headquarters in Continental Shopping Plaza. But don’t let that scare you if you’re not a Democrat — this issue knows no party lines, though it’s true corporations aren’t happy with it and the bulk of support comes from the left. But there are several big-name Republicans in the state who’ve signed on, believing transparency in elections isn’t too much to ask.
Goddard likes to quote Montana state Sen. Duane Ankney, whose state adopted tougher campaign finance laws two years ago: “If someone is going to shoot me in the gut, I want to know who done the shooting.”
Read more about the effort at outlawdirtymoney.com. To sign a petition, go to the Democratic headquarters in Continental Shopping Plaza, Suite 208, near Carne y Vino restaurant; or call them at 838–0590. They’re open Monday through Friday, 10–2.