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Tempe Voters, State Legislature Face Off On 'Dark Money'

dark money
Lauren Loftus/KJZZ
illustration | staff

Members of the Arizona Legislature supported banning local governments from requiring politically active nonprofits to disclose donors, contradicting Tempe voters.

With three “no” votes and four “yes,” the Senate Judiciary Committee sent HB2153 to the full Legislature for approval. The bill passed the House in February. If signed into law, the bill would allow 501c nonprofits to support legislation without disclosing where their funding comes from under local election laws.

This would ban a measure recently approved by Tempe voters. Last week, a ballot initiative that would let the city ask nonprofits involved in city elections to reveal their donor list passed with 91 percent approval.

Mark Mill, attorney with The Goldwater Institute, said those who donate to nonprofits want to remain anonymous and the bill needs to pass in order for nonprofits to speak up. He testified that Tempe voters didn’t fully understand the measure.

“The language was very, very vague and very general,” he said.

State Senator Martin Quezada, who voted against the bill, took issue with that reasoning.

“It’s actually quite insulting to suggest that 91 percent of voters in the city of Tempe … were ignorant about what they were voting on,” he said.

Rivko Knox, of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, said this keeps voters in the dark about who is influencing elections.

“Representative democracy is distorted when information is about who is providing significant funding for or against candidates, or proposed laws, is unavailable,” she said.

However, Anne Gill, president of the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, said if this bill does not pass, nonprofits will be burdened with extra paperwork and costly data entry.

Other proponents cited the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that linked political spending to speech

“HB2153 protects free speech,” Gill said. “The Tempe Chamber and other nonprofits have a right to express their opinion on local issues without undue requirements that expose the personal information of our members.”

In the past the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that local elections are not a statewide concern, and opponents of the bill said this bill could lead to lawsuits.

Claire Caulfield was a reporter and Morning Edition producer at KJZZ from 2015 to 2019.