Should Arizona voters end 'dark money' in state political campaigns?

When Arizona voters head to the polls next fall, they could decide whether to curb so-called "dark money" in state and local political campaigns.

A group called Outlaw Dirty Money wants to end anonymous financing in elections through a ballot initiative. The measure would amend the state Constitution to require that people making expenditures to sway campaigns disclose the names of major donors.

Their goal: Remove the veil so Arizonans know who's behind the wave of outside money that's flooded recent elections for statewide office.

Former Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard and campaign consultant Bob Grossfeld are leading the effort — a follow-up to Goddard's unsuccessful 2016 push to stem the influence of dark money.

The phrase "dark money" typically refers to political spending by advocacy groups — often in the form of 501(c)4 non-profit corporations — that aren't required to, and won't, disclose their donors.

Grossfeld said they've named the initiative the "Stop Political Dirty Money Amendment" because methods such groups use to hide their sources of political contributions often are similar to how criminals "launder money" through shell businesses.

They filed paperwork Wednesday to start collecting signatures and held an announcement rally outside the state Capitol. 

To get on the 2018 ballot, they must gather nearly 226,000 signatures by July 5. They plan to rely almost exclusively on volunteers, but Grossfeld said they've already drawn throngs of people offering to help.

“People have been coming out of the woodwork because they see this as corruption of the political system," he said. “They want something done about it."

But the initiative likely will face strong opposition from some conservatives, who say that citizens should have a right to give their money in support of causes without fear of retaliation or intimidation.

Chad Willems, a Republican political consultant who's worked with 501(c)4 groups, said Goddard and his group have falsely framed the issue around transparency. Rather, Willems said, voters see the issue as a matter of free speech and personal privacy.

"People who support issues that are near and dear to their heart should not live in fear of being boycotted, harassed, threatened," he said.

Dark-money groups have proliferated since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, which determined corporations, unions, trade associations and other groups can make unlimited expenditures to influence the outcome of elections.

The initiative would require anyone spending more than $10,000 on elections within a two-year cycle to publicly disclose any donors who've given $2,500 or more to the effort.

Grossfeld said the measure would remove secrecy from the process by requiring any intermediary groups, such as 501(c)4 corporations, to disclose the original source of the money for their contributions.

-Originally published by Dustin Gardiner, the Arizona Republic on Nov. 30, 2017 at 12:20 pm.

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