Arizona cities are losing their right to demand that nonprofit groups seeking to sway local elections divulge who is financing the effort.
Gov. Doug Ducey late Thursday signed legislation which preempts local ordinances that require these groups to register as political action committees. More to the point, the measure which takes effect this summer makes any effort to identify contributions off limits.
The new law, however, could face an uncertain future.
By a margin of 9-1, Tempe residents voted earlier this year to mandate disclosure of spending on local races. That new ordinance also requires that voters be told who is behind any effort that spends more than $1,000.
But Tempe is a “charter city,” constitutionally entitled to enact laws on strictly local matters. And the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled on two separate occasions that local elections in charter cities are not subject to state oversight.
It is not known whether Tempe will challenge the new law as an unconstitutional infringement on local powers. But other charter cities, including Phoenix, are considering similar measures.
There also is currently a statewide initiative drive being pushed by former Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard which would put a “right to know” provision in the Arizona Constitution to require that all sources of $10,000 or more be made public. If it makes the November ballot and is approved, it could override any state laws.
This law, pushed by Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, is aimed at gaining protection for donors to “social welfare” groups that spend money to help elect or defeat certain candidates through independent expenditures.
Ducey has been supportive in the past of allowing anonymous donations. And he himself has been the beneficiary of such expenditures.
He got elected governor in 2014 with the help of $8.2 million spent by outside groups both supporting his election and running commercials attacking Democrat foe Fred DuVal. That eclipsed the $7.9 million Ducey spent on his own, money that came from disclosed donors.
That wasn’t just a one-way street. DuVal benefited from $2.4 million in independent expenditures compared to his own $4.3 million campaign.
The governor has said he believes in transparency. But he also said there’s a valid reason to allow people to contribute anonymously to campaigns.
“I think people have a First Amendment right as well to participate and not be bullied,” he said.
That’s the same argument advanced by Leach in pushing the legislation through the House and, just this past week, by Senate Republicans in giving their own approval.
“Citizens have a right to privacy,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. “They have a right to give their money to whatever cause they deem is right.”
She also said there is as need for privacy.
“The problem is that the Left will use this information and they harass businesses,” Allen said.