Secretary of State seeks to make ‘dark money’ even easier in Arizona (updated)

dark_moneyArizona’s queen of voter suppression, Secretary of State Michele Reagan, has another massive election law bill moving through the legislature. Buried deep in the bill is a political payoff to the “Kochtopus” and their dark money bag man in Arizona, Sean Noble, who funneled dark money into all of the statewide Republican candidate races in 2014.

The Republic’s Laurie Roberts assured voters that Reagan was going to do something about dark money during the campaign last year. I warned you that Reagan was lying. Since taking office, Reagan has gone out of her way to facilitate dark money in politics and to prevent new disclosure regulations. Thanks for nothing, Ms. Roberts. You were duped and duped voters for Reagan.

Here is Reagan’s latest back-door attempt to aid the “Kochtopus” and Sean Noble. Arizona bill quietly loosens dark money rules:

A campaign finance bill moving through the Arizona Legislature was touted as a routine housecleaning measure to simplify the state’s complicated election regulations.

UPDATE: The bill number is SB 1516 (.pdf) “Campaign Finance Amendments.”

Not mentioned by the bill’s backers is a provision buried in the 54-page proposal that could have major ramifications for future elections.

The measure by Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, allows dark money groups to double the amount they spend on ballot measures. Dark money is generally defined as political groups that do not report their donors.

It would also let nonprofit groups spend more money influencing elections without having to reveal donors.

The dark money changes were not mentioned by lawmakers or the chief backer of the bill — the office of Republican Secretary of State Michele Reagan — during committee hearings last month, where the bill passed along party lines.

The Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the group backed by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, was among the organizations that supported the legislation.

Reagan’s elections director, Eric Spencer, later confirmed the changes after The Associated Press inquired about the bill’s impact on dark money.

Critics cite it as a back-door attempt to quietly sneak the dark money provisions through the Legislature by attaching the changes to a broader campaign finance bill.

“That was really disingenuous to market this as a technical fix, cleanup bill,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix. “There are major policy-level changes being proposed in this bill.”

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Reagan’s office helped craft the bill, despite her repeatedly vowing to clamp down on dark money during her 2014 campaign.

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Spencer said he believes changes in the law to keep donors secret are important for the democratic process.

“Political participation is depressed through disclosure,” he said, adding later, “We think the draft in the bill provides the right balance between disclosure and accountability.”

Dark money groups typically register as social welfare organizations and are not allowed to have political advocacy as their primary purpose. That means they can spend 49 percent of their money directly on elections, and 51 percent on social welfare advocacy, which is broadly defined.

The Arizona bill would change the law to allow these groups to spend unlimited amounts on ballot measures. In addition, social welfare organizations may not have to disclose how much they spend on ballot measures in the bill’s current form.

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Americans for Responsible Leadership, which is linked to the Koch brothers, spent about $1.5 million trying to kill a sales-tax increase and a “top-two” primary system in the 2012 election. The current legislation could pave the way for more organizations to form in Arizona and influence elections without revealing donors or even how they spend their money.

“Like water flows downward, the money will flow to those entities that take advantage of the new framework or loophole,” said Tom Collins, executive director of the state’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

The provision also changes the reporting requirements for tax-exempt organizations that spend money on state elections. Current rules require those organizations like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association to disclose their donors if they are spending more than 50 percent of their funds on an election.

While these entities don’t spend as much on elections as social welfare organizations, the proposed legislation would let them spend freely on ballot measures and candidates without revealing their donors.

Spencer dismisses the notion that the legislation expands dark money because he disagrees with the definition of what constitutes dark money.

He said dark money only involves completely anonymous speech. Under his definition, organizations in the Koch brothers’ network like Americans for Prosperity that spend millions of dollars on campaigns are not dark money groups as long as they identify themselves in political ads.

“I would define dark money as completely anonymous political speech,” he said. “It’s not ‘dark’ because the identity of the speaker is being disclosed.”

So who is in charge here? Spencer or Michele Reagan? No one elected this “Kochbot” Spencer to office, who the hell cares how he defines “dark money”? Why is the “Kochbot” in a position to corrupt our election laws? Why not just turn over the Secretary of State’s office to Sean Noble and be done with it?

It is time for the citizens of this state to wake up and to begin draining the swamp of the decades-long GOP culture of corruption in this state.

UPDATE: Laurie Roberts is critical of the Secretary of State, but does not cop to her own complicity in promoting Michele Reagan during the campaign. Roberts: Michele Reagan sold (us) out on dark money:

This year, Reagan has taken yet another step in her descent into darkness. Oh hell, it’s not a step, it’s a freefall.

Reagan’s office has been pushing a total rewrite of Arizona’s campaign-finance laws, never mentioning that hidden in the bowels of the bill are provisions that would loosen up what little dark-money disclosure we require. The bill is awaiting a vote of the Senate.

Specifically, Senate Bill 1516 would allow dark-money groups to spend even more money aimed at getting your vote and give them deeper hidey holes to disappear into so that you never will know who wants you so badly to vote a certain way.

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Reagan’s bill – and let’s face it, though it carries Sen. Adam Driggs’ name, Reagan’s guy wrote it — would allow 501c4 non-profits to spend as much as they want on ballot measures. Currently, these so-called “social welfare” groups can spend no more than 49 percent of what they collect on political campaigns.

The bill also eliminates reporting requirements for non-profits, meaning you have no hope of ever learning who is funding those independent campaigns that are spending whatever it takes to make sure their guy gets elected.

Sweet. If you’re trying to pull one over on Arizona voters that is.

Spencer, who wrote the bill, was Reagan’s pick for elections director. He previously worked with Mike Liburdi at Snell & Wilmer. Liburdi is now the lawyer for Gov. Doug Ducey. You know, the governor who enjoyed $3 million in dark-money support?

And so the woman who perhaps someday would like to have his job has figured out that the path to higher office requires passing through that “very big dark door” she once described.

Remember that the Secretary of State is next in line of succession to the governor. The Secretary almost always runs for governor.

4 responses to “Secretary of State seeks to make ‘dark money’ even easier in Arizona (updated)

  1. What’s the bill number? It bugs me that the reporting, originally by an AP reporter, has no mention of it.

  2. France's Perkins

    This is more of the same effort to create a one party dictatorship in this State. Ducey’s power grabs and court packing. Negating referendum and initiative efforts. Dark money and less disclosure. Putin and Kim and the dictators in Africa would be proud.

  3. The GOTeaP hates out of state money coming when it’s for gun control or gay marriage or immigration.

    But they love the out of state money when it’s pro-gun anti-choice anti-marriage equality and especially if it’s anti-Mexican.

    The GOTeaP is a scam.

  4. I’m curious why the point here is that either:

    1) Arizona legislators don’t read the legislation they vote on

    OR

    2) Arizona legislators don’t understand the legislation they vote on

    OR

    3) Arizona legislators like what was in the bill

    Making it about some sinister plot on the part of a few higher-ups kind of obscures the real tragedy, no matter which of the above it happens to be.