Laurie Roberts: Nine out of 10 Tempe voters said no to dark money. But will Arizona's leaders listen?
An astounding 91 percent of Tempe voters on Tuesday approved a charter amendment that would require disclosure of dark money in city elections.
They don’t like the dark money that increasing is buying Arizona’s elections – the secret interests that state leaders have bent over backwards to protect.
Are you listening, Gov. Doug Ducey?
Did you hear them, Arizona Legislature?
Meanwhile, Phoenix is working on a similar proposal.
And a bipartisan group called Outlaw Dirty Money is gathering signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot.
Lawmakers Wednesday approved a bill to nullify a clean-energy ballot measure that's barely gotten off the ground in Arizona by making the penalty for utilities violating such a rule as little as $100.
Republican Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City introduced the "striker" amendment supported by fellow Republicans. Such amendments are a tactic used to introduce a new issue late in the session, often skipping part of the public-hearing process. It passed a committee vote 4-3 on party lines.
Critics contend the amended House Bill 2005 undermines not only the current Renewable Energy Standard, where state utility regulators at the Corporation Commission require utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025, but also a ballot initiative recently filed in Arizona aiming for 50 percent renewables.
Voters give strong 'yes' to 3 ballot measures
Early unofficial results show Tempe voters overwhelmingly approved three ballot measures, with a proposal to add transparency to campaign spending getting the most support.
A measure to make Papago Park a preserve was the next most popular measure, followed by a budget-related request. Here's a look at each:
Campaign-finance reform: The proposed charter amendment would require the disclosure of the origins of so-called "dark money" used in Tempe. Any person or entity making an independent expenditure of more than $1,000 would have to disclose original and intermediary sources of the funding. Some praise the idea for increasing transparency while others raised concerns the state could push back because the local measure would go further than state law.
To the Editor:
At the 2010 State of the Union address, then President Barack Obama stood in front of the Supreme Court justices and chastised them for allowing unlimited and untraceable dark money from trans national corporations, foreigners and governments to influence our elections with their 5-4 Citizens United decision.
Those five justices form the Corporatist Wing of SCOTUS. Since then, dark money super PACs flood our body politic with unlimited and untraceable money to elect politicians who will do their bidding, enact legislation to their benefit, and foment propaganda, lies and misinformation that dupes Americans.
Dark money groups are brilliantly uncovered in Jane Mayer’s book, “Dark Money.” Greedy billionaires led by the Koch brothers, Mercers and Adelsons have literally bought and paid for an entire political party and use “legalized bribery” to corrupt the system to their benefit. They have figured out the best investment in America is to buy a politician.
The latest atrocity came in the form of a $500 million payoff from the Koch brothers to Speaker Paul Ryan (Koch’s haul is $2 billion a year in tax cuts, a 400 percent return on investment) for pushing through the GOP tax cuts for the rich, of which 84 percent of the $1.5 trillion tax cuts go to the top 1 percent and will be paid for by our children and grandchildren in the form of cuts to education, infrastructure, science, research and our Medicare and Social Security.
The Koch brothers have allocated a $20 million advertising budget propaganda campaign to dupe America into believing in the virtues of tax cuts for the rich and corporations.
They have begun their PR campaign of throwing a $1,000 bone to a few middle-class workers while CEOs and billionaires feed like pigs at the trough of trillion-dollar tax cuts and the added profits from the deregulation of our environmental, consumer, banking and labor protections.
We have a choice. We can vote out the politicians who literally are owned by the 1 percent and get the corrupting influence of money out of politics ... or let the billionaires overturn and overrun our democracy.
Please choose wisely!
Last month, Joe Albanese, a research fellow at the Institute for Free Speech, wrote in these pages that House Bill 1524 is an attack on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, i.e. free speech (Monitor Forum, Feb. 16).
I thank Albanese for bringing HB 1524 to the public’s attention. In its own flawed way it addresses two issues that undermine our democracy and alarm a great majority of voters: big money in politics and gerrymandering.
Regarding big money in politics, supporters of this bill seek to undo the effect of the activist U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, which declared corporations to be people and money to be free speech. The result of this decision has been the unleashing of torrents of money into politics with little transparency or accountability. It has given wealthy interests a bullhorn to exercise their “free speech” (often without us knowing who is “speaking”) while the rest of us have been reduced to whispers.
Gerrymandering refers to the redrawing of voting district boundaries (sometimes in contorted ways) for political advantage by the party that carries the vote in a census year (ends in a zero). The idea is to create as many uncontestable districts as possible for your party. With advances in technology this can now be done with surgical precision, as you have heard in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It allows politicians to choose voters rather than voters to choose politicians.
Albanese’s contention is that the Citizens United decision is, in fact, correct – that money in politics is free speech and therefore should be protected. People and organizations should have the right to support candidates of their choosing and advocate for policies through lobbying their representatives. Efforts to control this flow of money would undermine – or even threaten – citizen participation in the political process.
The moment one equates money with free speech, however, shouldn’t it meet the standards of free speech in the public square? Doesn’t free speech require that we know who the speaker is? This is called transparency and accountability. If supporting a candidate with money is free speech, then shouldn’t we know who the donors are? Shouldn’t we know who’s behind the proliferation of ads during the campaign season as well – if money spent this way is free speech?
The American people need to know who’s “talking.” Sometimes it’s not easy to find out: even corporate shareholders have found it difficult to get an accounting from their companies on their political spending and lobbying.
This is especially true with big donors because, at the very least, they can expect to have the ear of the candidate receiving the donation. At worst they can influence votes, the writing of bills and how those bills proceed. How can we establish that a quid pro quo has occurred – i.e. corruption – if there is no transparency?
Freedom of speech is a right not without consequences or responsibilities. In the public square, others have the right to disagree with you, criticize you and question your motives. We have a free press to investigate truthfulness and corruption and a government to assure that laws are not broken. It’s the public’s job, in turn, to hold the press and government accountable.
Then there’s dark money, “a term that describes funds given to nonprofit organizations – primarily 501(c)(4) (social welfare) and 501(c)(6) (trade association) groups – that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions, and spend funds to influence elections, but are not required to disclose their donors” (Wikipedia).
In turn, these nonprofits can give their money to Super PACs, which can spend it without disclosing those nonprofit donors. This kind of spending, largely for ads on social media, radio and TV as well as mailers, has exploded over the last two election cycles. The Russians, we have learned, have exploited this venue, which opens the possibility of even darker money being spent by American interests without our knowledge. Google, Twitter and Facebook clearly don’t pay close attention to their own platforms.
Who can doubt that the tax reform bill wasn’t a big, wet kiss to wealthy interests who helped elect the candidates of their choosing. Koch Industries, for instance, will be receiving a million dollars in the tax windfall; the Koch brothers have already pledged $400,000 to make sure those votes are rewarded (though they would use different wording).
Albanese also says that corruption is hard to define and difficult to prove. But we know what it looks like.
In 2008 it was clear that Wall Street had defrauded the American people on a massive scale, precipitating a huge recession. Nobody of substance was ever convicted of a crime, and the fines that were levied were trivial compared to Wall Street wealth. Profits were privatized, and losses socialized; Wall Street was bailed out, and Main Street left to itself.
Ten years later the protections put in place are being rolled back, and regulations are being swept away. Banks are still too big to fail. One random factoid: In the past year, members of the House Financial Services Committee received $10 million in contributions from banks, financial institutions, insurance companies and accounting firms – the tip of the iceberg.
The NRA funds many campaigns of candidates who support their pro-gun agenda and has a huge war chest to work against candidates who don’t. When a Sandy Hook, Las Vegas or Florida happens, it flexes its muscles, engages its members and strangles gun control legislation. Every candidate knows how powerful an effect their money has on elections. The result: inaction.
Is there an unhealthy imbalance of money in politics?
1) In 2012, fewer than 200 Americans – a miniscule 0.000063 percent of the population – contributed 80 percent of all Super PAC donations.
2) Since Citizens United, corporations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political attack ads at the local, state and national levels.
3) Wall Street lobbyists spent $1 million in one day to try to keep the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from getting off the ground. The fiduciary rule has yet to be put into effect.
4) In 2014, the Koch Brothers spent more money in one state, North Carolina, than all Democratic groups combined.
The perception on Main Street is that wealthy interests “own” our government – government by the rich for the rich – and with good reason. There are currently several versions of amendments to the U.S. Constitution to undo the damage done by Citizens United, which severely restricts the government’s ability to regulate money as a corrupting influence in politics. Wealthy interest will do anything to stop them. Republican leadership in both Houses obviously like the status quo because they will not move on any of these amendments – ditto on the state level – unless we the people pressure them to.
Until that happens, campaign finance reform is DOA. Have you surrendered your country to wealthy interests and to partisan politics (e.g gerrymandering)? We can start to take it back by asking our candidates about their inaction and then send a message in November.
(Allan MacDonald lives in New London.)
Last week, as our country faced yet another mass shooting—this time at a high school in Parkland, Florida—our President, Daniel G. Newman, spoke with Jane McMillan of KCBS radio about the political power that special interest groups like the NRA wield over elected officials and the legislative process.
In the interview, Jane and Dan discuss why—despite 88% of Americans supporting background checks on all gun sales—our elected officials are stuck at a political impasse in terms of curbing gun violence.
One major reason for the political gridlock is the NRA, the nation's largest dark money group, which spent an estimated $35 million to influence the 2016 elections. Because the NRA does not disclose their donors, American citizens have no idea who is spending money to control our country's gun policy—it could be anyone from gun manufacturers, to wealthy individuals, to foreign governments.
There is a rumor going around that Brendan Kelly is distantly related to the Flying Wallendas, up on that tight wire — one side's ice and one is fire.
He doesn't like the money in politics. He won't be in politics without the money.
He takes political action committee money, but he doesn't like it. When he gets to Congress the first thing he will do is change the constitution to get the money out of politics, a corrupting influence that is a top threat to democracy.
The state House voted to keep dark money dark.
Who would want to keep secret those who are trying to buy influence in elections? Apparently, all but one of the Republican members of the House, as the vote to send the bill to the Senate went along party lines.
Dark money is the name given to campaign contributions that do not have to be disclosed. A contributor gives money to a nonprofit organization, and that nonprofit organization makes a contribution to a candidate, a political action committee, or for or against a ballot proposition.
Nonprofit organizations are not required to disclose the names of contributors or the amounts contributed. And best of all for those seeking the ultimate in influence, there’s no limit on how much an individual, organization or corporation may contribute to the nonprofit organization.
The public has no idea who is trying to buy influence, and that’s very scary no matter what side of the aisle you sit on.
According to its sponsor, Vince Leach, R-Tucson, HB2153 is designed to prevent cities and towns from setting up rules requiring campaign contribution disclosure. If the state law is already in place, cities, towns and counties can’t enact any conflicting law.
You read that right. Arizona, the state that routinely decries federal mandates and screams for local control at every opportunity has, once again, decided that the government closest and most impactful to the people should be handcuffed and all decisions made at 1700 W. Washington in Phoenix.
This is no different than Bisbee’s plastic bag ban and the Legislature’s effort to strip Bisbee (and any other county, city or town) from moving forward with what its residents want.
A look at Leach’s campaign finance filings (at www.SeeTheMoney.com), shows an overwhelming number of political action committees donating to his various campaigns over the years. And while PACs are required to disclose donors, the only notation required when a nonprofit has donated to the PAC is the nonprofit’s title — not who donated to the nonprofit.
We’re in a weird place in this country right now. Even if our president won’t acknowledge it, we know Russia is spreading disinformation with the purpose of destabilizing the Democratic process.
Russia is blurring the distinction between fact and fiction, making us all question every bit of information we gather from our smartphones. Considering we can’t even trust our Facebook feeds, do we really want a situation where we don’t know who is trying to buy our politicians?Do we want politicians unwittingly taking money from enemies of this country? Worse still, do we want our politicians to willingly be compromised for the money it takes to continue being re-elected?
Nothing good for the people occurs in the shadows; transparency is the hallmark of a democracy. This bill needs to be defeated in the Senate.
Howard Fischer, of Capitol Media Services, helped shine the light on “dirty money” in AZ politics with his stunning article, “State utility funneling thousands into Ducey campaign.”
Regardless of party, I want to know who is donating large sums of money into a candidate’s campaign. Don’t you? If you don’t, you should. After all, big money equals influence.
Private prison corporations gave Ducey big bucks, and they got thousands more state prison beds. After all, that was the first thing added to the 2014 State Budget while Ducey was cutting education more than any other state.