Arizona Senate Republicans Approve Campaign Finance Law Changes, Democrats Cry 'Dark Money' Foul

Published: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 7:59am
Updated: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 10:06am

Senate Republicans on Tuesday approved a series of changes in state campaign finance laws that foes say will ease the flow of dark money and make it harder for voters to know who is trying to affect the outcome of elections.

The bill's provisions include the following:

  • Removing the authority of state election officials to subpoena records of candidates
  • Reducing penalties for those who overspend
  • Easing requirements for disclosure of the major sources of funds on campaign ads
  • Allowing unlimited spending by outside groups on social media sites with no requirement to say who is financing those efforts.

But perhaps the most notable change says that groups organized as nonprofits under the Internal Revenue Code are basically presumed not to be organized to influence campaigns, and therefore do not have to say where they're getting their cash.

Senator Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said that's a bad idea.

"This provision expressly means that anyone with a 501C entity in Arizona has a 'get out of jail free card' for reporting their donors as political committees no matter how involved in ballot measure campaigns they may be," he said.

But Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, who is carrying the measure for Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said the language Farley wanted to put in its place was "ambiguous."

Farley had no better luck convincing Republicans to put some criminal penalties into the law-- provisions that Reagan herself had sought two years ago when she was a state senator and running for secretary of state on a promise to crack down on dark money.

Reagan aide Matt Roberts said his boss now believes that tightening up such laws would force legitimate organizations to hand over a list of their members. But Reagan also benefited in that 2014 race from outside spending, with two groups which do not disclose donors spending more than $330,000 in efforts against Terry Goddard, her Democrat foe.

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