Arizona Advocacy Network

Government of, by and for the People

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Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law a piece of legislation that will afford you, the voter, the opportunity to exert tremendous influence over Arizona lawmakers.

As long as you, the voter, can afford to write checks to those lawmakers for $2,500.

Or as long as you, the voter, are part of a PAC that can shell out $5,000 to individual lawmakers.

Or, better yet, if you, the voter, are part of a super PAC that can give a lawmaker $10,000.

On the other hand, if doling out that kind of cash is beyond your means then you, the voter, like me, the newspaper writer, are out of luck.

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

HB 2593, pushed through by Republicans who control the legislature, drastically boosts the amount of money individuals and political-action committees can contribute to candidates. That includes those running for the legislature, statewide offices and school boards.

For example, the donation limit to a candidate used to be less than $500. Under the new law a generous donor could give a candidate $2,500 for a primary election and another $2,500 for the general.

It will only take only a handful of such donations for a politician to run a legislative campaign.

Supporters argued that the new rules are a way for candidates to take more control of their campaigns, an opportunity to combat the so-called “dark money” being infused into campaigns because of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, which allows independent expenditure committees to collect cash from donors who can remain anonymous and then spend that money to influence elections.

“The problem with what the legislature did is that it vastly increases the potential amount of money going into the process without doing anything to improve transparency,” said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network. “The supporters talked about how this legislation will counter the effects of Citizens United by having the money go directly to candidates. But those independent expenditure committees aren’t going anywhere. This just adds the potential for more money going into the process. The argument in favor of this legislation is that it fights fire with fire.”

Instead, it just throws gasoline on the fire.

“You can’t solve the problem of too much dark money being spent on campaigns by allowing individuals and groups to spend even more money on campaigns,” said State Senator Steve Farley, a Democrat.

Farley sponsored legislation aimed at trying to shed light on who is behind the dark money. It never got a hearing.

“What’s been frustrating is that I haven’t run into any people saying we need to keep these donors secret,” Farley said. “I’ve been running into people who throw up roadblocks. The legislature is supposed to publicly discuss possible legislation and find ways to make it better. The process is not supposed to block discussion. That’s what is happening here. And that’s really unfortunate.”

The Arizona Advocacy Network and others were hoping the governor would have vetoed HB 2593, in part because they believe it violates the Voter Protection Act and doesn’t “further the intentions” of the Clean Elections Act.

“We believe there are serious problems with this law,” said Wercinski. “There could be legal challenges. But this is also a slap in the face to working people who passed initiatives meant to prevent spending like this.”

When the individual campaign donation limit was under $500 political candidates had to work hard to find a bunch of different of donors. Now a few fat cats will do the trick.

“We saw with the Fiesta Bowl scandal and other instances how money can be used to try to influence politics,” Wercinski said. “We hoped things would change, that there would be reform. When something like the Fiesta Bowl scandal becomes public you want lawmakers to react strongly to the situation.”

You want them to solve the problem.

And they have.

Arizona lawmakers decided that the best way to prevent wealthy donors and PACs from using big money to illegally influence Arizona politics is, essentially, to make the practice legal.

(Column for Apr. 14, 2013, Arizona Republic)