Prop. 211 targets ‘black money’ in rural Arizona
PHOENIX — In 2014, the state’s largest electric utility invested $10.7 million in successful efforts to elect Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little to the panel that controls how much utilities can bill customers.
Three years later, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a 4.5% rate hike for the Arizona civil service.
However, the company didn’t disclose its 2014 candidate funding until 2019. And it was able to do so because state laws allow donations to be channeled through other entities to run fundraising campaigns. independent expenditures for or against the candidates, without obligation of disclosure.
All of this would end if voters approved Proposition 211. It is designed to uncover the ultimate source of all campaign funding.
People also read…
The measure draws fire from the business-focused Arizona Free Enterprise Club, which argues that this type of disclosure would lead to donor harassment.
“They want the names of private citizens so they can dox them, harass them and cancel them in their communities,” club chairman Scot Mussi said. “And they intend to use their friends in Big Tech and the corporate media (which are exempt from this initiative) to help them in their quest.”
This is also the conclusion of Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy.
“This initiative aims to intimidate some citizens into not taking part in the campaign,” she said. “The intended effect is to deter contributors from donating to campaigns, while their own donors signal virtue by touting their donations to awakened causes.”
But that ignores existing Arizona law, says former attorney general Terry Goddard, who crafted what’s called the voters’ right to know law.
“Anyone in Arizona who donates $50 or more must disclose all information,” he said, citing laws that require public disclosure of anyone who makes direct donations to candidates or ballot metrics. If bullying is a problem, Goddard says there would already be evidence of a problem.
“What our friends at the Free Enterprise Club say is, ‘Well, our friends are special and shouldn’t have to do this,'” Goddard said.
Mussi says it’s different.
“You’re talking about individuals giving to private organizations,” he said. And if that organization donates money to a cause or a candidate, that fact is disclosed.”
Mussi said it’s no different if the “private citizen” donating to an organization is a regulated utility that intends the “private organization” to use the funds to affect an election.
Goddard also ruled out the possibility that public disclosure could be used to harass people about their small donations.
“We set the disclosure limit at $5,000,” he said.
“People who give $5,000 can take care of themselves,” Goddard continued. “I’m sorry, it’s just like that.”
And the law only applies to organizations that spend at least $50,000 on statewide campaigns or $25,000 on other campaigns.
He also said there is a provision in the initiative that allows those who believe they or their family will be physically harmed if a donation becomes public to ask the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to request a waiver.
Then there is the legal issue.
Goddard acknowledged that the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark 2010 Citizens United case, prohibited the government from restricting independent spending on political campaigns by corporations, unions and other organizations. But he said the judges did not ban the disclosure requirements.
Mussi, however, cited a 2021 ruling from the nation’s High Court that struck down a California requirement that charities and nonprofits operating in the state provide the attorney general’s office with names and addresses. of their biggest donors. He said the precedent applies to groups that are formed to influence elections, suggesting that if Proposition 211 is approved, it will lead to litigation.
The initiative won its share of supporters.
One of them is Democrat Sandra Kennedy, who was a loser in that 2014 vote for the State Corporation Commission.
She was eventually elected to the panel in 2018. By then, Little had resigned to take up a position in the Trump administration, and Forese lost his re-election bid that year.
Kennedy then asked the commission to issue a subpoena to both APS and Pinnacle West Capital Corp., its parent company, to disclose the political spending.
“On the heels of their spending on black money in 2014, there was a huge increase in rates and confusing rate plans for APS customers, provided black money came out of people’s pockets,” he said. she declared. And Kennedy noted that when APS made public its funding on commission runs, the company also disclosed other expenses that year.
This included $50,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which helped Doug Ducey win his first election, and $425,000 to the Republican Attorney Generals Association, which in turn bought ads to help elect Mark Brnovich.
Company officials said in 2019 that they would not fund future campaigns.
The measure also has other donors.
“The League of Women Voters of Arizona believes that democracy should be protected from distortion by undisclosed individuals and corporations who buy campaign media to persuade voters,” said the organization’s president, Pinny. Sheoran, in a statement of support.
The merits of the proposal aside, Mussi called the measure “incredibly puzzling.”
As designed, it requires campaigns to trace the money back to the original donors, even if the money has been handled by multiple organizations.
“Respecting this thing is going to be almost impossible,” Mussi said. “How do you, really, comply with this without forcing each organization to make complicated deals with each other, or forcing the groups not to associate at all?”
Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has reported since 1970 and has covered state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or email [email protected]