Tempe's ballot measure to curb "dark money" in elections may not be dead yet, despite the governor signing a bill into law that would appear to quash the will of 91 percent of Tempe voters.
In March, Tempe voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that requires political nonprofits to disclose financial backers if spending exceeds $1,000 in municipal elections. This type of spending, referred to as "dark money," often goes toward political ads, robocalls and other efforts to sway elections without any requirements to disclose donors.
But House Bill 2153, which Gov. Doug Ducey signed in early April, outlawed cities from enforcing such campaign-finance reforms.
Ducey, a major benefactor of dark money, has taken the stance that it is an issue of free speech.
"The governor's view is that individuals have the First Amendment right to free speech without the fear of intimidation," Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey's spokesman, said.
5 ways this could go
The newly signed state law is not in effect yet, and advocates of the Tempe measure say it's not over.
Tempe has options to fight for the voter-approved measure, according to Joel Edman, executive director at Arizona Advocacy Network.
"We've been trying to figure out what the most likely (option) is," Edman said.
The options range from taking it to court to appealing to voters statewide. Here's a look.
1. Take it to all Arizona voters
Voters could take it to the ballot box again. Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard is helping lead the charge for a statewide "Outlaw Dirty Money" initiative.
Goddard said the group has collected between 60,000 and 70,000 of the 300,000 signatures needed by June 5 to get on the November ballot.
"It's a good start but it's a long way to go," Goddard said Tuesday as he drove to Tucson to pick up 500 completed petitions.
Tempe Councilman Kolby Granville supports the initiative, saying it could nullify the recently signed bill.
Granville recently sent out an email blast to help gather signatures. The councilman said the response was unlike anything he had seen before with some 460 responses.
Granville said the initiative is "the fork in the road" for Arizona voters to decide which direction they want to go with transparency in elections.
2. Force Ducey's hand
The local ballot measure approved by Tempe voters amends the city charter, which means the governor must sign off on it. City charter changes must go to the governor to determine if it conflicts with the state Constitution.
Ducey took more than a year before signing off on another Tempe charter change in 2017.
If Ducey follows a similar course this go-around, the city could ask the courts to force a decision, according to Edman.
The Governor's Office did not respond to The Arizona Republic's request for information on Ducey's intent.
3. Charter cities included?
Tempe could ask the courts to decide if the new law applies to a charter city, meaning a city that has a charter of local governing rules, much like a constitution.
An Arizona Supreme Court ruling said that the regulation of local elections is strictly a local matter. This means the law could possibly not apply to charter cities and Tempe could ask the courts to clarify if it does apply to them, Edman said.
4. Just ignore it
Tempe could ignore the newly minted law because of the Arizona Supreme Court ruling on local elections, according to Edman.
However, Tempe would still need Ducey to sign off on the city charter change for this to be an option.
If the city enforced the voter-approved reform and the state or a political non-profit sued, the issue would then work its way through the courts for clarification.
5. Lawmaker could call for review
A state lawmaker could request an Arizona Attorney General's Office investigation to determine if Tempe is complying with state law. If found in violation, the state could withhold state funding until the city fixed the problem.
Edman said this would be the worst scenario for Tempe as it could withhold state funds.
Under that process, Tucson taxpayers had to pay the state $100,000 in legal fees for its lost legal battle with the state over destroying confiscated guns.
It wouldn't be the first time Tempe found its actions under such review.
Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, sought an investigation into Tempe's use of a controversial tax rebate. The issue is now on its way to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Leach also was the primary sponsor of the "dark money" legislation.