Arizona must react to ruling on election ads - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Arizona must react to ruling on election ads

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Posted: Saturday, March 13, 2010 2:15 pm | Updated: 3:41 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett: No longer are corporations barred from tapping their treasury to directly advocate for and against candidates. Now, imagine such advertisements without disclosure as to who was behind them. That's the situation Arizona may face if we don't act now.

The electoral landscape shifted last month with a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

No longer are corporations barred from tapping their treasury to directly advocate for and against candidates. The Citizens United v. FEC ruling reversed decades of statutory and case law, clearing the way for potentially large sums of corporate and union money to flow into electioneering in the weeks leading up to an election. It's uncertain what impact this will have upon the statewide special election in May or the regular elections in August and November, but the possibilities are dramatic.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett

We may see a deep-pocketed union spend big dollars to support favored candidates in Arizona's race for governor or U.S. Senate. Or a multinational corporation unleash its resources to tear down political opponents.

Now, imagine those advertisements without disclosure as to who was behind them. That's the situation Arizona may face if we don't act now.

My office in recent weeks has worked with key stakeholders - election-law attorneys, representatives of business groups and unions, Republican and Democratic legislative leaders and others - to craft a solution. The result is Senate Bill 1444/House Bill 2788, legislation that complies with Citizens United while maintaining the hallmarks of our state's existing campaign-finance system: transparency and public disclosure. It both protects freedom of speech and safeguards an equally important freedom - that of voters to know the source of a campaign advertisement so they may be better equipped to judge its veracity.

I know that critics in some quarters would prefer my office do nothing in response to Citizens United, or use the case as justification to slash our state's existing regulations. I see neither as a responsible option, nor do I believe we can afford to play legislative catch-up once the elections have passed.

What we propose is a simple, common-sense mechanism to ensure disclosure of corporate and union campaign spending, while keeping bureaucratic red tape to a minimum. No private citizen making a campaign donation need worry about this legislation. It also does not apply to bloggers, the media and others protected by the First Amendment.

Specifically, the legislation requires that:

A corporation, union or limited liability company file a report with the Secretary of State's Office within 24 hours of making any campaign expenditure greater than $5,000 in a statewide candidate race, $2,500 in a legislative race or $1,000 in a municipal or local contest.

Additional reports be filed for each subsequent expense in excess of those thresholds.

This Web-based system will maintain freedom of speech while providing voters information nearly in real time on the corporate and union groups influencing Arizona elections. The legislation represents a bipartisan compromise that has already won the support of legislative leaders, as well as the endorsement of groups as politically varied as the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Swift adoption is needed to put a system in place before these newly legal campaign advertisements hit the airwaves. The time for action is now.

Ken Bennett is Arizona Secretary of State.

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