Arizona Republic: Oh the Horror. Clean Elections Commission Targets Dark Money

Oh the horror. Clean Elections Commission targets dark money

By Laurie Roberts, The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Clean Elections Commission has proposed requiring dark-money groups to quit hiding and reveal who is funding their drives to get certain people elected.

This, of course, would be a disaster of epic proportion for … well, probably for a fair number of politicians and their anonymous sponsors.

Such a horror, in fact, that the Secretary of State's Office is threatening to sue if the Clean Elections Commission so much as tries to aim a flashlight into any of this state's dark places.

State Elections Director Eric Spencer says the commission is treading on turf occupied by his boss, Secretary of State Michele Reagan.

"A democracy," he noted, "cannot function when it is in a polygamous relationship."

Well, neither does it function particularly well in the dark, where anonymous interests can essentially buy offices for candidates they favor by pouring unlimited buckets of cash into campaigns aimed at getting your vote.

Before you know it, you can end up with … oh, for example … an entire commission of utility regulators selected by the utility they're supposed to regulate.

It wasn't so long ago that Reagan was pushing to unmask dark-money donors. As a state senator, she ran a bill aimed at revealing the anonymous interests that increasingly are seeking to buy elections in Arizona.

"We open up a very big dark door if we start saying that anything's a go in this state," she told me in December 2013 while preparing her bill. "You're basically saying then our elections are for sale and not just for sale, but the public can't find out who paid for it."

As a candidate for secretary of state in 2014, Reagan touted her unsuccessful bill and said the state must push for more disclosure of dark money.

"Do not let them fool you," she wrote. "It does not need to be a complicated issue."

Now that she oversees elections, Reagan no longer believes the state can require dark-money groups to disclose who is bankrolling their campaigns.

"The worst thing you can do is tell people something that they want to hear, knowing it can't be done," she told me in April.

Actually, the worst thing you can do is give up -- "basically saying then our elections are for sale and not just for sale, but the public can't find out who paid for it."

The non-partisan Clean Elections Commission in August will vote on a proposed rule that would require non-profits that spend at least $500 on a campaigns to reveal their donors.

Reagan's guy, Spencer, last week warned the committee that only the secretary of state has the authority to regulate campaign finance. If commissioners approve the rule, he warned, "you've bought yourself a lawsuit."

"Someone has to blink here," he said.

On the contrary, I'd say everybody should keep their eyes wide open.

Reagan won't try to regulate the dark money that is attempting to buy Arizona's elections but she'll sue anybody else who's willing to try.

The question is: why?