Valdez: Initiative would clean up dirty money, not kill free speech

Who is that wizard behind the green curtain? You know, the guy passing out money to his political soulmates?

Terry Goddard wants you to know. Doug Ducey doesn’t.

Voters should see who puts up big bucks to influence elections.

But campaign laws protect anonymous campaign funding.

Ducey owes a lot to anonymous donors

For example, groups that organize under the Internal Revenue category of “social welfare” organizations are exempt under Arizona law from disclosing their donors.

Those organizations can make independent political expenditures for or against candidates or issues without telling the public where the money originated.

In 2014, outside groups contributed $8.2 million to support Republican Ducey for governor and undermine his Democratic opponent Fred DuVal.

Ducey got elected. Voters still don’t know who put up all that green.

With his re-election campaign on the 2018 horizon, Ducey apparently wants to keep it that way.

In 2016, he signed a so-called campaign finance reform bill that made it easier to keep the mystery in campaign funding.

Now Ducey’s raising a tired, old argument in defense of "dark money" at a time when former Attorney General Goddard is launching a petition drive to demand disclosure.

Goddard says disclosure should be a right

Goddard’s initiative, The Stop Political Dirty Money Constitutional Amendment, needs 225,963 valid signatures by July 5, 2018 to qualify for the 2018 ballot.

It would establish a constitutional right for you to know who is making major contributions to influence elections. It requires public disclosure of contributors who give $2,500 – even if the money goes through an intermediary.

Simple. Straightforward.

And not really revolutionary.

If you are an individual, you already are required to identify yourself if you donate more than $50 to a campaign.

That’s not true if you donate to one of those protected organizations that doesn’t have to identify its Sugar Daddies and Mommies. And let’s face it, those folks likely aren’t putting up a measly 50 bucks.

Goddard says, “dark money is a morally neutral term,” so the group pushing this constitutional change prefers to call it “dirty money” because “it is polluting the system.”

Why the free-speech argument falls flat

Ducey defends dark money with an argument popularized by the conservative Goldwater Institute. He told Capitol Media Services that keeping the names of campaign donors secret protects them from being “bullied.”

According to this old-standard conservative refrain, it chills the First Amendment rights of donors to require them to stand up and be counted – along with their donations.

The free-speech argument falls flat with Goddard, who points to the requirement to identify individual donors.

“Whose speech is he concerned about?” he said to me. “Not your speech and not my speech.”

This is about open government. When an organized group is pouring millions into a campaign, voters have a right to know who is writing the checks.

This transparency does not create the imagined free-speech dilemma that has Goldwater and Ducey in such a tizzy.

Protect speech, but tell voters who's talking

It is, in fact, the solution the Supreme Court endorsed when it unleashed dark money spending with the Citizens United decision, which says independent campaign spending by corporations and unions is protected political speech.

In that same decision, the court championed disclosure.

The court wrote: “Transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

OK. So protect the speech. But let the voters know who is talking.

That’s what the Stop Dirty Money campaign is all about.

It pulls back the curtain so you can get a good look at the big-money wizards who like to pull the levers in secret.

-Originally published by Linda Valdez with AZ Central on December 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.