A new initiative effort to end anonymous donations to political candidates in Arizona is intriguing — it raises the simultaneous issues of the First Amendment, privacy and the people’s right to know who is financially supports candidates running for elected office.
Organizers filed paperwork this week to begin gathering petition signatures. They need 225,963 valid signatures by July 5 to get the initiative, dubbed Outlaw Dirty Money, on the ballot statewide in the November general election.
Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard is spearheading the push. He ran for Secretary of State in 2014 on a campaign to eliminate “dark money” — donations from unidentified sources — but lost to Michele Reagan.
While we are far from weighing in on this particular proposal — it’s too early to know if it will be on the ballot — its essential questions merit conversation.
Does a person’s desire to give money to a political campaign without being publicly identified outweigh the benefit of the public knowing who is donating to specific candidates?
Gov. Doug Ducey, in a recent news story by Capitol Media Services, weighed in on the side of anonymity. “I think people have a First Amendment right as well to participate and not be bullied.”
We agree that every person should have the ability to voice their opinions without being bullied or harassed — those are matters for law enforcement. Freedom of speech does not guarantee a positive response to our expression, only our right to speak our minds.
Using the fear of a potential negative response as a reason to keep donors’ identities secret skews the equation.
The analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s like saying the only way to keep from being burglarized is to not keep anything in your home.
The initiative would require that all “original sources” of donations be identified, and is geared specifically at those who contribute more than $10,000 in any two-year election cycle.
It’s also aimed at donations made through organizations that collect smaller amounts from individual donors and then packages them into a larger donation under the organization’s name. This allows individuals to remain unknown.
Ducey has benefitted from these kind of donations, to the tune of $8.2 million from outside groups in his 2014 campaign for governor. The Democratic candidate, Fred DuVal, received $2.4 million from outside funders.
It is essential for voters to know who funds candidates and campaigns. It is essential for our democracy and to hold our elected officials accountable.