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Bill would require shadowy political groups to list donors

Lawmaker wants sources of funding reported

  • State Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, listens while Secretary of State Ken Bennett explains his support of legislation that would require corporations to disclose political contributions to political action committees. The bill, authored by Farnsworth, is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed such contributions without limits.
    Ivy Morris/Cronkite News ServiceState Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, listens while Secretary of State Ken Bennett explains his support of legislation that would require corporations to disclose political contributions to political action committees. The bill, authored by Farnsworth, is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed such contributions without limits.

Backed by Arizona’s secretary of state and attorney general, a lawmaker is pushing to require corporations established to influence elections to disclose the sources of the money.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said it’s important that the public know who is behind such efforts.

HB 2835 would require corporations, limited liability companies and labor organizations that influence elections to act as a political action committee does and file campaign-finance reports listing their sources of funding.

“This bill allows us to know clearly who’s contributing and it’s not done under a cloak of secrecy,” Farnsworth said.

The bill is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, which found that governments may not restrict political spending by corporations. The court found that such restrictions would infringe upon free speech.

Groups nationally have played around the edges of Citizens United, creating shadowy organizations that purchase adds supporting or opposing candidates without disclosing their backers.

For example, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is in charge of elections, said his office received complaints about several independent groups that organized as corporations to influence the recall election of former state Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and the Phoenix mayor’s race.

“Basically they were hiding all the sources of their money,” he said.

Bennett said that while the bill isn’t a direct result of either race, the elections highlighted challenges of dealing with the Citizens United ruling.

“They just happened to be the two after Citizens United,” Bennett said. “We wanted to clarify before elections this year.”

Attorney General Tom Horne joined Bennett at a news conference in support of Farnsworth’s bill.

Similar bills addressing the Citizens United ruling have been introduced in California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont, according to the government watchdog group Public Citizen.

Current law on political activity by corporations

A corporation, limited liability company or labor organization that makes expenditures to influence the outcome of an election – of more than $5,000 statewide, $2,500 on a legislative race or $1,000 on a local race – must register and notify the appropriate filing officer one day after making the expenditure.

If HB 2385 becomes law

Such entities also would have to disclose the amount of money received from or spent on particular activities, the amount of time devoted to particular activities, the manner in which activities are conducted and purposes furthered by the activities of the entity.

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