Bill proposes altering election spending rules - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Bill proposes altering election spending rules

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Posted: Sunday, February 21, 2010 7:48 pm | Updated: 3:53 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Arizona lawmakers are revamping state laws to pave the way for corporate and union political campaigns now that the U.S. Supreme Court has said they are legal.

Arizona lawmakers are revamping state laws to pave the way for corporate and union political campaigns now that the U.S. Supreme Court has said they are legal.

But the entities are going to have to keep voters informed of their activities.

Legislation introduced by Senate President Bob Burns would lift some of the existing restrictions that now prohibit corporations and unions from getting involved in candidate races. Now, they would be permitted to spend unlimited amounts of money trying to get those they like elected and those they oppose defeated - as long as they do it on their own and not in coordination with candidates.

SB1444, set to be heard Monday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, comes less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal laws that had prohibited both corporations and unions from influencing candidate elections.

In a split decision, the majority said these entities are entitled to the same First Amendment rights as individuals. And that, the justices concluded, includes the right to spend their own money on independent campaigns.

That ruling automatically voided virtually identical laws in Arizona. But that left the state with no regulations at all.

SB1444 does not attempt to get around the Supreme Court ruling or impose limits. But it does require public disclosure of what is being spent, and on behalf of whom, something the nation's high court concluded last month remains permissible.

Under the terms of the bill, any expenditure of at least $5,000 on any statewide race, or $10,000 for two or more races, would trigger the requirement to report that to the Secretary of State's Office within one business day.

For legislative races, the threshold is $2,500 for any one race and $5,000 for multiple races. And a report would be required for any expenditure of at least $1,000 for individual local races, including school boards, or $2,000 where there are several races at issue.

Those reports also would require details of not only the specific candidate or race involved, but the method of trying to influence that race, whether it be television commercials, newspaper advertising, mailings or some other option.

All that would appear not just on the Secretary of State's web site, but in the communications themselves.

So a radio ad, for example, would have to include a disclaimer of exactly who paid for it.

Violators would be subject to civil penalties of up to three times the amount spent. And anyone who knowingly files false information with the Secretary of State is guilty of a felony and could end up in state prison for a year.

Burns said the legislation actually was crafted by the Secretary of State's Office. He said it is possible that lawmakers may alter some of the thresholds.

Nothing in this proposal removes the existing prohibition against corporations and unions giving money directly to candidates. The U.S. Supreme Court decision did not address that issue.

The permission for corporations and unions to engage in unlimited independent campaigns comes as the state is attempting to rescue its laws which provide matching dollars to publicly funded candidates when they are outspent by foes. This includes not only what their opponents spend but also any money from independent campaigns targeting them.

A federal judge already has ruled that match is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. A federal appeals court will review the issue in April.

In striking down the federal restrictions last month, Justice Anthony Kennedy said it is impermissible to provide different restrictions for corporations than for individuals. He said that corporations are little more than groups of individuals.

"When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought," Kennedy wrote.

"This is unlawful," he continued. "The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."

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