Some of Arizona’s loudest and most influential voices in education will be silenced in future elections due to a law aimed squarely at keeping the Arizona School Boards Association off the campaign trail.
In response to ASBA’s financial largesse during the 2010 cycle on a couple of ballot measures, the Legislature passed HB2002, which prohibits school districts from spending money for membership in any association that attempts to influence the outcome of an election.
That means no more contributions by ASBA, Arizona School Administrators or the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, which receive membership dues from school districts. In fact, those groups will no longer even be able to submit arguments for or against ballot measures for the publicity pamphlets issued for each election.
Rep. John Kavanagh, the law’s sponsor, makes no bones about what prompted HB2002. He said he introduced the bill in response to ASBA’s sizeable donations to ballot measure committees in 2010. ASBA gave $25,000 to support the May 2010 special election for a sales tax increase, and $50,000 to a campaign opposing Proposition 302, which would have dismantled the First Things First program. Kavanagh supported the opposite position on both measures.
Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the law won’t have much of an impact on future ballot measures. After all, the no-on-302 campaign that ASBA contributed to raised about $928,000, and the campaign for Proposition 100, the temporary one-cent sales tax increase, raised nearly $2.4 million. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, ASBA did not contribute to any campaigns from 2000 to 2008.
The ASA and AASBO made even less of a dent in contributing to ballot measures last cycle. Each gave just $5,000 to Yes on 100.
But Kavanagh said he was less concerned with impact than he was with principle — that taxpayer dollars from public schools shouldn’t be used on political campaigns.
“The effect will be small in terms of the campaign, but it will have a monumental effect on ethics and good government,” said Kavanagh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. “If individual members are passionate, let them put their own cash and not my tax dollars to advocate their positions.”
But opponents of the law say there’s nothing wrong with districts supporting ballot measures that are directly related to their missions as educators, such as Prop. 100, which was billed as necessary measure to protect K-12 funding.
AASBO lobbyist Chuck Essigs, who is currently serving as ASBA’s interim executive director, said the groups will simply have to sit out campaigns that are important to them. Individual members and leaders of the groups can still file ballot arguments, he said, but will have to pay the filing fees themselves and may not even be able to list their professional affiliations.
“We’re fully complying … now that that legislation passed,” Essigs said. “But our opposition was that we thought it was good to have a voice in a lot of the statewide referenda on things that impacted education funding.”
Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said HB2002 was part of a broader trend in the Legislature, in Arizona as well as other states, to muzzle public employees. He said the same mindset led to SB1365, which limits the ways that unions can use members’ dues for political activities.
Morrill said HB2002 won’t affect the AEA, but he signed in as an opponent of the bill at the Legislature because it’s important for organizations that are intimately involved with education to offer their positions on ballot measures that affect education.
“What we seem to have is a much more extreme view in the legislative leadership about what is tolerable opposition and tolerable political action that seems bent really on silencing or severely limiting discourse,” Morrill said. “(The bills are) all part of a coordinated effort … to silence members of the public sector.”
The law may have been aimed at ASBA and other similar organizations, but its reach won’t end there. Essigs noted that many schools are members of local chambers of commerce, some of which take part in campaigns as well, such as the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce. Even in Kavanagh’s home of Fountain Hills, the Fountain Hills Unified School District #98 is a member of the local chamber.
Essigs said good schools promote good business, and it’s a natural partnership for districts to join their local chambers. But with HB2002 on the books, he said, districts will have to reconsider their membership, lest they unintentionally run afoul of the law.
“They will no longer be allowed to pay dues to the chamber of commerce if the chamber of commerce does anything to try to influence the outcome of an election, which many of them do,” he said.
But while the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a political powerhouse that gets heavily involved in every election cycle, Kavanagh said most chambers, including Fountain Hills, stay out of the political fray.
And even if that weren’t the case, he said, the same principle applies.
“No public money to advocate for elections. It’s a real simple rule,” Kavanagh said.
If a local chamber does get involved in a campaign, he said, “Then the one or two school districts that are in that chamber’s jurisdiction will have to withdraw.”