Funding political campaigns one of many issues facing lawmakers

2014-01-12T00:00:00Z Funding political campaigns one of many issues facing lawmakersBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 12, 2014 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX — Not everything lawmakers will face this session revolves around how to divide up the limited dollars available. They also will be taking up some matters of policy.

One of the biggest issues is likely to be a rewrite some of the state’s campaign-finance laws.

Arizona law already requires groups that try to influence an election to disclose the source of their funds. That’s easy when their mailings and commercials use what courts have called “magic words’’ like “vote for’’ or “support.’’

But the law is worded to also include any communications “that in context can have no reasonable meaning other than to advocate the election or defeat of the candidate.’’ Factors include putting the candidate in an unfavorable light and the timing of the communication.

A judge last year concluded that is too vague to let state officials designate them as election-oriented ads. Instead, he said they could fall into the category of ads designed to educate the public about specific issues — which are exempt from the reporting requirements. And he declared the entire reporting statute unenforceable.

In a separate case, a federal judge ruled that state laws defining a “campaign committee,” which must report its expenses, are unconstitutionally vague and unenforceable.

At the same time, lawmakers from both major parties have vowed to go after so-called “dark money” campaigns — independent groups that spend money supporting or opposing candidates but hide the names of their donors.

But any effort to force greater disclosure will run into opposition from the same special interests that want any evidence of their fingerprints on election materials eradicated.

Some other issues likely to dominate the session:

fire-zone DEVELOPMENT

The Yarnell Hill Fire that claimed the lives of 19 “hotshots” may force lawmakers to revisit the question of whether restrictions are needed on building homes in the middle of a forest.

An outright ban is unlikely. But there is discussion of mandates ranging from a requirement for metal roofs to having a “defensible space’’ around buildings.

TEXTING limits

Foes of allowing motorists to drive while texting will try — again — to get a consensus.

Here, too, there are probably not the votes to make the practice totally illegal. But a proposal that bans texting by teens and other novice drivers might be able to gather enough votes.

Other issues that could gain legislative attention:

  • New restrictions on the use of photo radar;
  • Giving local firms bidding preference on government projects;
  • Delaying a requirement that youngsters read at third-grade level before being promoted;
  • An expanded voucherlike program that gives parents public dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools;
  • Deciding what to do with the relatively few donations for the state to build a border fence on private land;
  • Revamping the state income tax to reduce the number of tax brackets;
  • New tax breaks and incentives for businesses that relocate or expand here;

Two perennial issues — gun rights and abortion restrictions — may take a back burner this year.

Proponents of gun rights have had years of victories, to the point where any adult can carry a concealed weapon without training.

And various efforts to restrict gun sales or require background checks have been repeated non-starters.

As for abortion, efforts to put new curbs on the procedure may have reached their constitutional limit, with federal courts rejecting a ban at 20 weeks and the attempted cutoff of family planning funds to Planned Parenthood.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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