Arizona Clean Elections Panel Advances New 'Dark-Money' Spending Rules

By Alexandra Olgin, Associated Press
Published: Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 1:05pm
Updated: Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 2:41pm

The issue of "dark money" and political campaign contributions came before the Arizona Clean Elections Commission today. They voted to more narrowly define what a political committee is and what it  must do.

The change specifies a political committee as a group that is formed shortly before or during an election cycle that gets or spends more than $500 in contributions to influence an election. Any group that fits that description would have to file campaign finance reports revealing the source of the money.

“Since Citizens United, we’ve had more and more money with less and less information. Clean elections in many ways — whether it’s by addressing independent expenditures or by providing more information about candidates — clean elections is really an antidote to that dark money problem," said Tom Collins, executive director of the Clean Elections Commission.  

This legislative session, lawmakers defined a political committee, but didn’t get that specific.

Matt Roberts, an aide to Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said the Legislature should have the final word.

“This has little if nothing to do with somehow making free speech more transparent and everything to do with the clean elections commission in our view overextending what their original intent was," Roberts said.

Roberts said the secretary’s office will try to resolve the dispute with the commission, but if that doesn’t work, litigation is on the table.

Commission director Collins noted that no one from the secretary’s office came to the meeting to testify.

Spending by outside groups that don't have to disclose their donors or expenditures has soared in Arizona and nationally since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the government can't restrict independent spending on elections. But the court also ruled that states can require disclosure, and the Clean Elections Commission has been trying to boost reporting requirements for outside groups.

Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature believe the commission, created by voters in 1998, doesn't have authority to take such action. But the commission, made up of two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent, has consistently voted to exert its authority over the issues.

Reagan said the Legislature expressly rejected the type of reporting requirements Collins is proposing, but he disagreed.

Commission chairman Thomas Koester, an independent, said he expects the proposed rules to be substantially changed before the panel considers formal adoption.

"I'm pretty sure everything's going to be revised once we get it back from public comment," he said.

Updated May 14, 2015, at 2:35 p.m.