Arizonans deserve to know who wants to buy their votes.
But they don’t.
Under current laws, they can’t.
Political non-profits can spend on TV spots, radio ads, robocalls, mailers other schemes to try to sway voters without disclosing the source of the money.
This anonymous cash – so-called dirty money – is corrosive to a system that is based on informed voters making educated choices.
Yet secret spending is becoming more ingrained in our elections.
Dark money played big role in 2014 election
In 2014 – the last year Arizona elected a governor and slate of statewide officeholders – groups outside of the political campaigns spent $27.3 million ($12 million of it on the governor’s race).
At least 46 percent of that was dark-money spending by groups that don’t have to disclose their donors, according to reporting by The Republic.
People instinctively understand why this is wrong.
In March, a staggering 91 percent of voters in Tempe approved a measure to require political non-profits to disclose campaign spending in local races.
Politicians instinctively understand the potential benefit to them from anonymous spending.
Legislature, governor act to stop local efforts
This month, the Legislature passed and Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that prohibits cities from enforcing campaign rules just like the ones Tempe voters overwhelmingly approved.
The argument against disclosure is based on the idea that organizations with a broad donor base should be able to protect the privacy rights of members.
It’s a weak argument because individuals who donate more than $50 are already required to identify themselves.
Pooling money into a group that can keep campaign donors secret invites corruption.
Voters deserve to know who is spending to get a candidate elected. Why? Because in the real world, money comes with strings attached.
Informed public outweighs privacy argument
A candidate’s donor list is a more likely predictor of post-election behavior than a candidate’s stump speech.
That’s why voters need to see a complete list of donors.
It is why the importance of an informed electorate outweighs any arguments in favor of maintaining a cloak of invisibility for non-profit groups that are currently exempt from disclosure rules.
Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard says dark money should be called "dirty money” because “it is polluting the system."
He is pushing an initiative called Outlaw Dirty Money, which would amend the state Constitution to give the people of Arizona the right to know who is trying to sway state elections.
Amending the state Constitution is a major step. It should not be done lightly.
Establish basic right for voters to know
But in this case, it would be done to establish a basic right for people to know who is giving money to influence elections. That is a necessary change that responds to a well-known problem.
The amendment doesn’t limit contributions. It doesn’t tell anyone not to use their money to exert political influence.
It simply requires transparency.
Instead of hiding behind innocuous-sounding titles like Citizens for Beautiful Sunrises, this amendment would require the names of donors.
According to the group’s website, the amendment "requires public disclosure of all contributors who give $2,500 or more to influence elections in a two-year election cycle, regardless of whether their contributions passed through any intermediaries."
Disclosure needs a statewide voter mandate
The value of transparency was clear to more than 90 percent of Tempe voters. The reaction of lawmakers and Ducey in retroactively preempting the will of those voters shows why this kind of disclosure won’t happen unless voters mandate it statewide.
But voters won’t get a chance to vote on the Outlaw Dirty Money initiative unless its supporters collect enough signatures by July to qualify for the ballot, and Goddard says they need more volunteers to help gather the target of 300,000 signatures.
“This single reform will allow voters to take control of our elections back from the faceless dirty money forces,” he said. “But, it won’t get on the November ballot unless a lot more good people stand up and do their part.”
Those who think transparency in campaign financing is a good idea should check out outlawdirtymoney.com
Anonymity and secrecy in elections are antithetical to our form of government. Why? Because you can’t make an informed choice unless you have information.