Arizona Republicans launch sneak attack to protect dark money secrets
Laurie Roberts: In the final hour of the legislative session, Republicans passed a resolution aimed at gutting the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
Lost in the sea of red that capsized our leaders’ political agenda and riveted attention to the woeful plight of Arizona’s public schools:
The shark lurking beneath the roiling waters.
The one zeroing in on the only state agency willing to take on the dark money interests that increasingly are buying Arizona’s elections.
In the final hour of this year’s legislative session, while all eyes were on #RedforEd, Republican legislators were busy approving a scheme to gut the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
Gut Clean Elections
House Concurrent Resolution 2007 asks voters in November to strip the non-partisan watchdog panel of its independence and place it under the control of an obscure state commission.
One filled with Gov. Doug Ducey’s appointees.
One that previously has tried to block Clean Elections from requiring dark money groups to disclose who is funding their political campaigns.
What a shock. That a commission packed with appointees of a governor – one who enjoyed more than $5 million in dark money support to get elected — would try to block the only state agency trying to do something about the dark money operators who are secretly pouring cash into campaigns aimed at getting your vote, and their people elected.
And that the GOP-run Legislature would assist them in their efforts to keep the wool pulled securely over voters’ eyes.
Protect dark money secrets
Republicans have been gunning for the Clean Elections Commission since October 2015, when the panel unanimously approved regulations aimed at requiring dark money disclosure.
That sent Secretary of State Michele Reagan running to the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council.
The GRRC – or gerk, as it’s called – is a seven-member commission that reviews rules imposed by state agencies to ensure they comply with state law. Of its seven members, six are appointed by the governor and the seventh by a governor’s appointee.
Among its current members is Steve Voeller, founder of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. You may recall the dark money group that waged a multi-million-dollar campaign to get two Corporation Commission candidates elected in 2014. It’s widely believed that Arizona Public Service bankrolled that campaign, spending $3.2 million in all to select its regulators. But I digress.
Reagan asked GRRC to block the Clean Elections Commission from requiring dark money disclosure, saying the panel was trying to “muscle its way into the Secretary of State’s jurisdiction.”
Never mind that Reagan has no interest in regulating dark money. But again, I digress.
Exempt from oversight
It was no surprise when GRRC ordered Clean Elections to repeal its regulations, contending it has no authority to regulate dark money groups.
The Clean Elections Commission refused, contending it is an independent commission set up by voters and thus exempt from oversight by a rule making panel under the control of the governor.
Thus comes HCR 2007. The resolution would bar publicly funded candidates from buying voter lists or anything else from political parties. And it would remove Clean Elections’ exemption from rule making requirements imposed by GRCC.
It passed on a party-line vote in the wee hours of May 4, the last bill to skulk out of this year’s legislative session. It now goes directly to the November ballot.
“I think most voters would agree that’s not what they intended when they supported Clean Elections 20 years ago,” House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said, as he closed voting on the bill.
Funny, every poll I’ve seen says voters want to know who is secretly bankrolling political campaigns.
The Center for Law in the Public Interest on Monday filed a lawsuit, hoping to knock HCR 2007 off the ballot. This, on behalf of Clean Elections Commissioner Amy Chan, who is a former state elections director, and Louis Hoffman, the principal author of the Clean Elections Act passed by voters in 1998.
They contend HCR 2007 is unconstitutional because it combines two unrelated subjects and its title is vague. They also agree that it “fundamentally changes the powers of the commission by subordinating the independent and non-partisan commission’s rules to the governor-appointed, partisan GRRC review.”
Dark money campaign on the way
If it remains on the ballot, look for dark money groups to mount a massive campaign to get this one passed.
For one thing, they do not want an independent commission meddling in their political campaigns.
For another, passage of HCR 2007 would essentially neuter the Outlaw Dirty Money initiative. That initiative, should it make the ballot, would set up new rules requiring dark money disclosure in Arizona. It designates the Citizens Clean Elections Commission as the agency charged with enforcing that disclosure.
And under HCR 2007, a partisan commission of political appointees would oversee that independent agency and its attempts at enforcement.
Sure. What could go wrong?
Reach Roberts at email@example.com.
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