Tim Steller, columnist at the Arizona Daily Star.


Just over a year ago, in February 2014, then-Sen. Michele Reagan lashed out at special interests who opposed a bill meant to force groups trying to influence elections to disclose their donors.

“Everybody that signed in opposition to this bill wants one thing. And that is nothing to happen,” she said at a meeting of the Senate elections committee. “They don’t want this discussion. They don’t want changes. They want status quo.”

“You should have a problem with that,” she went on to tell her fellow committee members. “The 6 million Arizonans out there have a problem with that. It it not right.”

Who was that woman? Not the same Michele Reagan who now occupies the office of secretary of state, it seems.

In the last month, Reagan has taken key steps against disclosure in campaigns that seem to reverse her clear stand of just last year.

First, she spoke out against an effort by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission to force new outside groups who intervene in campaigns to disclose the sources of their money.

Then she said she will not enforce a state law that requires any political organization putting out an attack ad to give 24 hours notice of the content of the ad to the candidate being attacked.

Then she allowed the Goldwater Institute to intervene on her behalf in a lawsuit by the Iowa-based Legacy Fund against the clean elections commission. That case essentially challenges the commission’s right to force groups that advertise in election campaigns to register as independent-expenditure committees.

There’s a lot to unpack here. It really isn’t clear that the commission has the authority it has claimed to force groups to disclose donors or to register as independent-expenditure groups.

Thomas Collins, the clean elections commission’s executive director, has strenuously argued that Reagan is wrong, and that the voter-approved initiative that established the commission gives it this authority.

“You do not have to have a law degree to understand what the commission’s power is here and why the secretary’s office has no dog in this fight. It’s a Clean Elections Act issue. They don’t enforce the Clean Elections Act,” he said.

While that’s an interesting issue, and still to be decided in court, the general drift of Reagan’s point of view on disclosure in campaigns is what’s particularly puzzling.

It was just a year ago that she was arguing passionately for a bill that would have required all campaign commercials, mailers and similar material to also show the names of the top three contributors.

Then she went through a primary in which she was targeted by massive dark money spending, and a general election in which she benefited from massive dark money spending. Now, she no longer thinks the state has any role in forcing groups that try to influence our elections to disclose their donors.

“In the secretary’s mind, it comes down to a federal issue with the IRS and their determinations of not-for-profits,” her spokesman, Matt Roberts, told me Thursday. “To get at the root of this dark money issue, there’s going to have to be a change at the IRS to make any meaningful impact.”

This is probably correct, as far as it goes. As long as groups that are actually formed to influence political campaigns can disguise themselves as educational groups under the tax code, it will be hard to force disclosure.

But Reagan knew all that a year ago. Why does she think now that the state has no real role in the matter when back then she argued passionately that the state not only could, but should, force the donors to political efforts be disclosed?

I can’t get inside her head, but I imagine some factors that played a part. Among them: a desire not to let the Clean Elections Commission usurp what she thinks is her authority, a wish to simply clarify who has what jurisdiction, influence from the lawyers who run her office’s elections division, and a fear of the wrath that dark money forces could bring down on her if she acts against them.


It’s well-known that House Speaker David Gowan, a Sierra Vista Republican, would like to run for Congress.

Yes, Republican Martha McSally already occupies the seat in Congressional District 2, his home district. But if the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates Arizona’s congressional districts, he will have heavy influence on the redrawing of districts and could design one more comfortable for him to run in — say, one with lots of Republicans that runs up the east side of the state.

Since all that’s in the future, and the Congressional District 1 seat will become open in the next election, Gowan now has another plan. He is considering forming an exploratory committee for CD1. Not only can he run for that seat — you don’t have to live in a congressional district to run in it — but it would give him publicity if he gets a chance to run in a district he designs. And that district could include parts of the current CD1.


Speaking of Gowan, I reported Sunday that he saved $999 on car repairs by having them done by students at a JTED program in Vail, a program threatened by cuts in his Legislature’s budget. That figure was an estimate by the man who runs the auto shop at Andrada Polytechnic High School, an experienced mechanic who’s worked outside the schools.

It happens I had also asked the mechanics at Adams Automotive, 2021 S. Fourth Ave., what their estimate of the work would be, but I didn’t hear back until Monday. Long story short, South Tucson prices are a little cheaper. By Adams’ estimates, Gowan only saved $736 at the JTED shop. Of course, the principle is the same.


It’s hard for this Tucsonan not to look at the city of Glendale’s struggles to escape its commitments to pro sports franchises and not feel a little schadenfreude. It was Glendale, after all, that lured the Chicago White Sox’s spring training away from Tucson by building them a $200 million stadium. That began the collapse of Tucson’s spring training.

Now the city that stole spring training is trying to weasel out of its arena deal with the Arizona Coyotes hockey team.

Hard to feel bad for that city.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter