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Organizers of proposed ban on ‘dark money’ initiative take case to Supreme Court

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Supporters of a ban on “dark money” in political races are making a last-ditch effort to put the issue to voters in November.

Legal briefs filed with the Arizona Supreme Court contend that Secretary of State Michele Reagan improperly refused to consider a number of petitions.

For example, attorney Kimberly Demarchi said Reagan concluded that several petitions were not attached to the actual text of the initiative as required by law. So she refused to count the signatures on those petitions.

But Demarchi said it is “undisputed” that the petitions were in the boxes with the text of the measure. In fact, she said, the photographs of the petitions show marks in the upper left corner where the staples would have been.

The fact that a staple was “lost in transit,” Demarchi said should not void the signatures.

And she said that petitions from some other circulators were improperly removed from consideration.

Every signature that Demarchi can add back in is important: A check of a random sample of the petitions found they came up just 2,017 short of the 225,963 needed to put the issue on the November ballot.

The initiative would overturn existing laws that allow groups established under the Internal Revenue Code as “social welfare organizations” to spend money to influence state and local races without disclosing the source of their donors. Instead, any individual that put in at least $2,500 would have to be named.

That question of missing staples, however, is not the only issue for Demarchi. She also wants the high court to overturn a ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders who tossed out even more petitions than Reagan had disqualified — and the signatures on them — when the circulators failed to show up in court after being subpoenaed.

That left supporters of the measure even further from their goal.

Demarchi is challenging that law that requires automatic disqualification of petitions when circulators do not show up.

If nothing else, she said the law, approved in 2014 by the Republican-controlled Legislature, does not comply with court rules that the people issuing the subpoenas show they have been properly served. And Demarchi said it was wrong to let challengers to the initiative wait until 11 days before the trial to even mention that they planned to subpoena circulators.

“The voters of Arizona are being deprived of even the opportunity to consider the proposed amendment referred for their consideration by hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens,” Demarchi told the justices. “This result should not be permitted to stand.”

But even as Demarchi seeks to add signatures back to the tally, attorney Kory Langhofer is trying to push the justices in the other direction. He wants them to rule that Sanders did not disqualify enough of the petitions.

Langhofer, who represents individuals who run some of those social welfare organizations that seek to influence elections but refuse to disclose donors, said Sanders should have tossed even more signatures than she did. He specifically is aiming to disqualify all signatures gathered by those who he said fit the definition of “paid circulators” but failed to register.

 

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