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Measure outlawing ‘dark money’ in Arizona campaigns poised to win handily

Prop. 211

Measure outlawing ‘dark money’ in Arizona campaigns poised to win handily

  • Jim Small/Arizona Mirror

Arizona voters are poised to overwhelmingly shine a light on campaign contributions, backing a ballot measure that would require disclosure of so-called "dark money" campaign spending by more than a three-to-one margin.

With early ballots tallied and some Election Day results trickling in, Proposition 211 was supported by 76% of voters and opposed by just 23%.

Dubbed "The Voter's Right to Know Act," the measure mandates the disclosure of contributors who give $5,000 or more to a campaign that spends more than $50,000 on media messages in support of a statewide or legislative office or ballot proposition. Local elections spending $25,000 would be required to reveal donors who give $2,500 or more in contributions.

The measure has garnered bipartisan support, with former Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard chairing the organization that brought the initiative to the ballot and former Republican governor Fife Symington speaking in support. This is Goddard's third attempt to outlaw dark money in Arizona, but only the first that actually qualified for the ballot.

Critics slammed the measure as a product of "cancel culture" and said it violates the freedom of speech of donors.

"The desired effect is to scare contributors out of donating to campaigns, while their own donors virtue signal by touting their donations to woke causes," wrote Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative lobbying group.

While Center for Arizona Policy is a 501(c)(3) public charity that can't engage in elections, its affiliated Center for Arizona Policy Action is a 501(c)(4) entity. That group, which regularly spends on Arizona elections, isn't required by federal tax law to disclose its donors — but would have to do so for its election activity if Prop. 211 becomes law.

Architects of the proposition argue that it's necessary in a time of misleading political ads.

"We believe that Arizona voters should have the right to know the source of funds spent to influence their votes," Voter's Right to Know co-chairs Goddard, David Tedesco, Bob Bertrand and Paul Johnson wrote in a joint statement encouraging voters to support the measure.

Polling shows that Arizona voters agree with that sentiment: as much as 90% of them believe they should have a right to know who is influencing elections. Candidates in the state are required to file campaign finance reports with the secretary of state, but repercussions for failing to disclose funding sources are minimal and easy to circumvent.

Contribution limits exist in Arizona for candidates, but political parties, political committees and ballot measure committees have no such limitations. That's a problem, advocates of Prop. 211 say, when dark money — money for which the original source is unknown — has become a heavyweight player in modern politics. During the 2020 election, more than $1 billion in federal campaign contributions was dark money.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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