Republican lawmakers are working with the Secretary of State’s Office to overhaul the state’s campaign finance system with a 54-page rewrite critics say is too long and complicated to rush through the Legislature.
A Senate panel passed the measure on Feb. 18. Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, described it as an effort to simplify current law so that people don’t need to hire an attorney to understand Arizona’s campaign finance system.
“The attempt is to go from some legalese to maybe what some people might consider poetry,” Driggs said during the Judiciary Committee hearing, which he chairs.
But Tom Collins, director of the state’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said the bill would do more than change wording – it would limit public scrutiny.
It would redefine when candidates and political action committees have to make information available and under what circumstances candidates can accept money, goods and services, Collins said after the hearing.
“Some of these changes will mean that voters will receive less information about how money is at play in state elections than they would receive under the current law,” he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB1516 on a 4-3 vote. It now undergoes a standard review before going to the full Senate.
The bill would repeal and replace the state’s current campaign finance system. The proposal covers everything from political contributions and campaign-finance reports to disclosure requirements.
State Elections Director Eric Spencer said he has spent the past 10 months working with interested parties to craft the new system. Spencer described the bill as a house-cleaning measure to re-organize laws that have piled on top of each other for the past decade.
The objective is to simplify and create uniformity among existing laws with a goal of balancing campaign finance disclosure with free expression, he said.
Opponents are concerned lawmakers haven’t had enough time to understand the possible impacts of the lengthy proposal.
“It’s a lot of public policy change in one bill, and I think it’s very difficult for anyone to discern how the various parts of it will affect each other and affect future elections,” said Sandy Bahr, who lobbies for the Sierra Club’s Arizona chapter.
One particular area of concern for Bahr was a provision that added disclosure exceptions for political action committees, she said.
Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, said that without the proper scrutiny, the bill could open too many loopholes.
“I don’t think we’ve had enough time to analyze the intended and unintended consequences,” she said.
The measure doesn’t include criminal provisions originally listed in the campaign finance section of law. Spencer said he will instead include those provisions in a separate bill for clarity’s sake.