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.
Will Ducey OK Tempe's ordinance?
Tempe’s Sunshine Ordinance would require non-profit groups making independent expenditures over $1,000 to disclose their organization’s name and source of their campaign funding in city elections.
I say “would” because the charter change must be approved by Gov. Doug Ducey before it can take effect.
Sure, that’ll happen.
Ducey was elected in 2014 with nearly $3.5 million in support from six dark-money groups set up as non-profit corporations. We would later find out from IRS records that five of those dark-money non-profits in turn got funds that year from the sixth – American Encore, part of the Charles and David Koch network of conservative/libertarian billionaires.
And you wonder why Ducey has pushed for private prisons, universal vouchers and corporate tax cuts even as our roads crumble and our poorly paid teachers depart? And oh yeah, a new state law that will actually allow more dark money spending in this year’s elections.
Legislature may thwart Tempe voters
In all, anonymous interests spent more than $15 million getting the governor, Corporation Commission and Legislature they wanted in 2014, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more in the 2016 legislative races.
And what was our leaders’ response? In 2017, they passed a law that will allow even more dark-money spending in this year’s elections.
Lest you think cities, at least, have found a way to let the sun shine in, think again.
There’s a move in the Legislature to outflank them. House Bill 2153 would stop cities from requiring dark money campaigns to disclose the source of their funding in city elections. The bill has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.
Thus, the need for a citizen’s initiative.
Citizens initiative targeting dark money
Under the Stop Political Dirty Money constitutional amendment, any group spending more than $10,000 on a state or local campaign would have to disclose donors who contributed $2,500 or more. (The group would be responsible for identifying the original source of the money, rather than just the last non-profit “social welfare” group through which it was laundered.)
The group has until July 5 to collect the signatures of 225,963 voters to get on the November ballot.
So here comes the hard part, the most inspiring part.
Help needed to get signatures
This will be a grassroots effort.
Not so long ago, conventional wisdom said you had to pay professional circulators in order to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot, given the number of signatures required. Then along came Save Our Schools Arizona, a group of average citizens who decided to fight our leaders and their dark-money backers who brought us universal school vouchers.
These citizen volunteers launched a petition drive and managed to put Arizona’s new expanded voucher law on hold, giving voters the final say in November.
These same citizens are now gearing up to work on the Outlaw Dirty Money initiative.(If you’d like more information on how to get involved, go here.)
Look for heavy pushback wrapped in a phony First Amendment narrative. Ducey has already signaled his opposition, saying disclosure would subject donors to harassment.
On Tuesday, nine out of 10 Tempe voters saw through that argument.
Can you hear them now, Gov. Ducey?
Did I mention that Outlaw Dirty Money needs lots of help in getting those signatures?
Reach Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.