Nine of 10 Tempe voters called for lifting the curtain on secretive money in city elections, but lawmakers this week passed a bill that would stop that. The measure now goes to the governor, who was a beneficiary of 'dark money' spending in his 2014 run for office.
"Dark money" refers to political non-profits that spend money on political ads, robocalls and other efforts to sway elections without any requirement to disclose donors. The Tempe measure would force the organizations to unveil financial backers if spending exceeds $1,000 in municipal elections. Phoenix is beginning to explore a similar measure.
But House Bill 2153 would prohibit cities from enforcing such campaign-finance reforms.
Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, the bill's sponsor, said the landslide passage of the Tempe measure on March 13 didn't deter him.
"Lots of people in my district want the right to remain anonymous and that's who I'm here to represent," Leach said.
Leach and others say anonymity protects donors who fear retaliation for criticizing a politician.
Supporters of disclosure say voters should know who is spending to influence their vote.
"The legislation will stymie efforts to shine a light on untraceable campaign spending by wealthy individuals, corporations and interest groups occurring in elections at all levels of government," Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego said.
Some say the issue is likely to land in the courts.
What the bill does
The bill passed by the Senate on 16-13 vote that followed party lines with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
The bill does four things:
- Non-profits in "good standing" with the IRS would not have to register as a political-action committee or PAC.
- Non-profits would not have to disclose donor information.
- Non-profits in good standing would not have to respond to audits, subpoenas or produce evidence regarding a "potential political campaign finance violation."
- Remove the requirement that a non-profit prove they are organized for the sole purpose of influencing an election.