Arizona voters passed an anti-dark money law. Republicans want it gone.

dark money

State Senate President Warren Petersen at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore

By Camaron Stevenson

January 3, 2024

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on Friday rejected Arizona Republicans’  request to stop the state’s new anti-dark money law from going into effect.

Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, and House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria, requested a preliminary injunction from the courts in September, alleging that the new law was unconstitutional and took away their power as legislators, as it allowed an independent commission to craft the specifics of the new transparency law.

But Judge Timothy Ryan disagreed, stating in his ruling that the Arizona Constitution protects voters’ right to to enact laws by way of citizen’s initiatives. When 72% of voters passed Proposition 211 on Nov. 8, 2022, Ryan said, they made clear that they wanted more transparency in regard to campaign finance.

“The citizens of Arizona voted to receive more information about the sources of money trying to influence Arizona elections,” Ryan wrote. “The Legislature is not empowered to repeal or detract from voter-approved measures based on its displeasure with those enactments.”

Under Prop 211, any individual or organization that spends $25,000 on media purchases for local elections—or $50,000 for statewide elections—is required to disclose the source of any donations of $5,000 or more.

In August, the Citizen’s Clean Elections Commission, Arizona’s nonpartisan election agency, adopted several additional rules as part of the state’s new anti-dark money law:

  • Political spending relating to research, polling, or donor list acquisition will not be considered campaign media spending unless it’s directly related to a media purchase.
  • Any individual or organization who donates, directly or indirectly, more than $2,500 must disclose to the benefactor the identities of everyone who contributed to that donation.
  • Contribution recipients must notify the donor ahead of time if they plan to use the donation for campaign media spending, and must obtain permission from the donor to use their contribution for that purpose.

Petersen and Toma’s lawsuit is the latest in a number of attempts to repeal the new anti-dark money law. Two conservative dark money organizations, the Center for Arizona Policy and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, filed a lawsuit alleging free speech violations in December 2022.

The lawsuit was dismissed in June, as reported by the Arizona Mirror. Another lawsuit from dark money group Americans for Prosperity was filed with federal courts in March, claiming similar First Amendment violations. As of May, that case is still pending.

Those interested in learning more about political spending in Arizona can search through campaign donations and spending at the Secretary of State’s “See the Money” website.

Author

  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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