Dispatches from the Urban Resistance, from Tempe to Nashville and beyond.
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.
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.
Amid all of the anti-voter legislation being considered by the Legislature this session, one measure – a full-scale assault on Clean Elections and accountable government – has garnered surprisingly little attention. HCR 2007, sponsored by Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, and spearheaded by lobbyists for the Free Enterprise Club, has already cleared the House and is set for Senate consideration. HCR 2007 is a misleading proposal designed to confuse voters and undermine Arizona’s popular anti-corruption law to the benefit of wealthy special interests.
Like Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s redistricting measure (SCR 1034), HCR 2007 is being presented as something other than what it truly is. Despite the false claims of proponents, HCR 2007 eliminates the Clean Elections Commission’s independent, nonpartisan authority to administer and enforce the law, and instead gives final say over Clean Elections rules to the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council (GRRC), a hyper-partisan body stacked with corporate elites and professional political operatives, including Free Enterprise Club founder Steve Voeller.
If HCR 2007 passes, Voeller, whose organization has been trying to dismantle Clean Elections since its inception, will be a critical figure in deciding how the program operates. That would be a dramatic step backward from the nonpartisan Clean Elections Commission we have now and will all but ensure the scales are tipped in favor of special interests.
Equally misleading, the measure would nearly double the amount of money individuals can donate to clean candidates, while essentially capping the value of no-strings-attached money candidates can receive through the clean funding program. The bill’s supporters accomplish this by radically altering the formula for setting the spending and contribution limits applicable to clean candidates, changing the statutory formula from routine inflation adjustments to a flat $100 increase each election cycle. This provision has received little attention in the House because it has been misleadingly deemed just a “technical” change. In truth, the provision will over time serve to empower wealthy donors and well-connected politicians at the expense of everyday voters and candidates.
As cover for this quiet gutting of Clean Elections, proponents are pushing a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory designed to gin up partisan passions. Like the Clean Elections Commission, Arizona Advocacy Network is nonpartisan and seeks only to protect the Clean Elections system that has served voters so well for 20 years. We are not in the business of promoting any political party’s interests. That is why we oppose HCR 2007.
If there’s one thing virtually all voters agree on, it’s that money has too much influence on our politics while people’s voices have too little. HCR 2007 is just another step toward empowering the wealthiest interests to control our state. As it heads to the Senate, legislators should stop and think about whether they want to side with the voters, or join a stealth assault on this popular anti-corruption program.
— Joel Edman is executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network.
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!