Arizona voters turn off the 'dark money' lights, while Phoenix voters light a match

Opinion: The statewide powers of darkness did well in the recent election. But there was a glimmer of hope in the city.

Column by E.J. Montini, Arizona Republic

Picture Arizona as one big well-lit room.

Inside are politicians who need money to get elected along with the representatives of special interest groups and wealthy individuals who would like to give them that money.

In Tuesday’s elections, Arizona voters turned out the lights in that room, while voters in Phoenix – from the midst of darkness -- lit a match.

The special interests already are pretty good at sneaking money to candidates without us being able to see them.

Sometimes they do so because they believe the candidates will be good for the community. Sometimes because they believe the candidates will be good for their special interests and they want to control them.

On Tuesday, statewide voters got scammed.

Voters defanged an independent board

They passed Proposition 306, which takes the previously independent Citizens Clean Elections Commission and puts it under the control of a group political appointees hand-picked by the governor.

In other words, the room is now pitch black, making it even more difficult to find out who is slipping money to whom.

The proposition essentially gutted the Clean Elections Act passed by Arizona voters in 1998.

One of the organizations responsible for the passage of the act was The League of Women Voters of Arizona.

Two of their members wrote recently:

“The League of Women Voters of Arizona helped write and pass the Clean Elections Act because it supports transparency in campaign finance and public financing of elections. The Act was praised nationwide when it was passed, because it gets large sums of money — special interest money — out of politics, thus requiring candidates to actually go out and meet their constituents!”

At least Phoenix passed Prop. 419

On the education pamphlet sent to voters Joel Edman and Morgan Dick, of the Arizona Advocacy Network, tried to warn voters they were being conned by ballot language that made it sound like the proposition was protecting taxpayer money.

They wrote, "Clean Elections is our watchdog, and (Prop. 306) is the establishment’s attempt to defang it. How? By giving an obscure board of political insiders hand-picked by the governor the power to overrule the watchdog."

Unfortunately, that is what happened.

Except in Phoenix.

Voters in the city overwhelmingly passed Proposition 419, which says that those who contribute money to influence municipal elections must reveal where the money is coming from.

Earlier this year voters in Tempe passed a similar requirement.

This is why we have disclosure

Meantime, the Republicans in control of the state Legislature, and who want to keep secret the names of “dark money” contributors, passed a law that says local government can’t require disclosure.

It was supported by business groups like the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commercewhich doesn’t want voters to know where the “dark money” comes from and spreads the ridiculous argument that the proposition would “effectively suppress the business community’s speech in elections.”

That’s not it at all, of course. If money is speech – which is a stretch – no one is trying to suppress, only to let the rest of us know who is doing the talking (with their wallet.)

The point of disclosure is not to prevent anyone from giving money to candidates or causes, but only to be open about it.

Statewide voters unfortunately got skunked, and decided that big money donors will be able to shout their wishes in the dark.

Phoenix voters lit a match.

Make no mistake, however, the rich and powerful will try to blow it out.