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Anticipated Arizona Supreme Court decision hangs ‘dark money’ November ballot measure in balance

‘Dark money’ ballot signatures challenge could halt public vote on Arizona rules
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

It’s about integrity. It’s about a voter’s right to know who is paying for politicking in all its forms. And, proponents say, most of all, it is about restoring civility to Arizona politics.

A bipartisan collection of business and political leaders from across the Valley of the Sun came together in central Phoenix to protest a legal challenge at the Arizona Supreme Court to gathered signatures — from paid contractors — in support of the Voter’s Right to Know Act becoming a part of the upcoming November general election ballot.

The press conference was led by Terry Goddard.

Terry Goddard at the podium moments before delivering opening remarks to several local television and radio outlets in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Mr. Goddard, a lawyer by trade and a longtime political advocate, including former mayor of Phoenix and Arizona Attorney General, is spearheading his fourth effort to end what is referred to by political aficionados as “dark money.”

Mr. Goddard, amongst a growing chorus of political operatives, believes a lack of disclosure for 501(c)4 nonprofit organizations that spend money on disseminating content using public communications is in direct conflict with American democracy.

The issue of “dark money” comes from a Supreme Court ruling essentially granting American corporations certain inalienable rights to free speech, legal experts opine. In its 2010 ruling of Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, the United States Supreme Court confirmed corporations are people and have the same rights as human beings to express its First Amendment right to political speech.

The idea of a corporation as a person reaches back to the turn of the 19th century when the Southern Pacific Railroad successfully argued — represented by Roscoe Conkling, who at the time was a prominent leader of the Republican Party, — the 14th Amendment was designed to protect corporations from discriminatory tax burdens.

Following the Civil War, the 14th Amendment appears to have been struck to ensure all people regardless of color were guaranteed “equal protection of the law.”

Mr. Conkling was a part of the drafting of the 14th Amendment. According to a 2019 article penned by UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler for the Atlantic, Mr. Conkling successfully argued those equal protections were drafted with corporations in mind.

Mr. Goddard says the Citizens United case did two things: It confirmed the idea corporations are people and have a right to free speech, and that the general public has a right to know where money comes from in political races.

According to federal law, 501(c)4 nonprofit donors can be anonymous as long as 51% of the funds spent go toward a social-service effort. The other 49% can be used in any political manner, which is oftentimes funneled into local political races.

Photo of Dark Money sign at Phoenix press conference
Proponents of ending nondisclosure for political financial contributions gather in Phoenix Tuesday, Aug. 23, in central Phoenix. (Photo: Terrance Thornton/DigitalFreePress.com)

‘Dark money’ ballot measure proves elusive

Due sometime in the next few weeks is an Arizona Supreme Court ruling in response to a legal filing by the Arizona governor’s office in an attempt to disqualify hundreds of thousands of voter signatures.

“I am a strong supporter of our judicial system, but these optics are troubling,” Mr. Goddard said during the Aug. 23 press conference. “Equally troubling is the fact that Governor Ducey in his brief is attacking petitioner affidavits, claiming the very rules he signed off on should not have been followed. He is changing the rules of game after the buzzer has sounded.”

What the ballot question is seeking to ask voters is an Arizona constitutional amendment:

The Arizona constitutional amendment, which would require 501(c)4 nonprofit organizations to disclose funders, specifically, requires three major changes: Anyone spending more than $20,000 on a statewide campaign; or anyone spending $10,000 on a local campaign to disclose the original source of contributions of $5,000 or more used to fund campaign expenditures; and a nonpartisan, voter-established commission to write and enforce rules and levy fines for violators.

Those who spoke in support during the Aug. 23 Phoenix press conference included:

  • Mr. Goddard, a Democrat;
  • Former Paradise Valley Mayor and congressional candidate Vernon Parker, a Republican;
  • Former GOP Corporation Commissioner and Arizona Sen. Bob Burns, a Republican;
  • Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, a registered Independent; and
  • Businessman David Tedesco.

For Mr. Parker, a longtime community servant, he says he found himself at a loss of finances, financial prospects and even friendships following a vicious “dark money” campaign during his 2014 run for a seat at the Arizona Corporation Commission.

“It has had a profound impact on my personal life, my financial life and I think it is time for the governor to really stand up and do what is right. We have to expose the perils of ‘dark money,’” he told the Arizona Digital Free Press.

“I really hope that we can get the governor’s attention because this is something that is very important and something I believe can really reform politics. In the sense of bringing politics back to where it used to be because right now everything is hidden through a shroud of untruthfulness, and we don’t know who is saying these things.”

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