February 10, 2016

Secretary Reagan seeks comprehensive reconstruction of state election laws

Phoenix – In an effort to root out unlawful political spending while protecting legitimate non-profit groups and charities’ right to engage in the political process, Secretary of State Michele Reagan is asking the legislature for the tools she needs to hold so-called “convenience corporations” accountable.

Following months of public stakeholder meetings with legislators and the elections community, a historic and comprehensive rewrite of the state’s election laws has been introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Adam Driggs in the state legislature.  Senator Driggs’ bill (SB1516) consolidates and makes order of nonsensical statutes while codifying preexisting policies and procedures that govern everything from candidate filings to campaign finance enforcement.

While the complete reorganization makes little substantive change to the laws governing campaign finance, Secretary Reagan seized the opportunity to introduce a set of measures that ensure not-for-profit entities spending money to influence an election to file comprehensive registration documents and annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service.  In addition, such groups must register and maintain good standing with the Arizona Corporation Commission.  

“For the first time we could have the tools necessary to go after fly-by-night “convenience corporations” who show up in Arizona on Tuesday and start spending money on Friday in our elections,” said Secretary Reagan.  “If any of these groups fail to meet these new standards, we will assume they are a political committee and require them to register with our office and reveal their donors.  If they refuse, we will turn over the case to the IRS and the Corporation Commission for further enforcement.  The outcome of those investigations could jeopardize non-profit tax status, cause all their income to be taxed and expose them to potential litigation and fines.

“The ability to differentiate between bad actors and perfectly legitimate companies exercising their basic right to speak is historic,” continued the Secretary.  “It’s offensive to many that institutional groups like the Cattlemen’s Association or Arizona Chamber of Commerce would have to hand over the personal information of their members and supporters to a government agency. These provisions strike the right balance between holding wrongdoers accountable and protecting legitimate not-for-profits from big brother tracking the issues and causes they support and deciding what political speech they wish to regulate.

“In conjunction with our revolutionary, soon-to-be-released campaign finance reporting system, citizens will better able to educate themselves about the connections between the people who write checks and the politicians that cash them.”

1516 is a comprehensive rewrite of Arizona campaign finance law.  While provisions related to anonymous political spending are extremely important, the legislation also provides a clear, concise set of policies and procedures where citizens can easily find and understand the rules by which they can engage in political activity.

“Over the years, our election laws have become a jumble set of incoherent statutory gibberish that nearly requires a law degree to understand,” said the Secretary.  “Our goal was to rebuild the statutes from the ground up without making substantive changes to current law, policies or procedures.  While politicians and career bureaucrats might not like it, the changes will allow normal, everyday people just wanting get involved in the process the ability to understand the rules without the benefit of a team of lawyers.”