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How technical problems are hindering disclosures through Arizona's dark money law

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Arizona voters two years ago approved a proposal to require disclosure for so-called dark money groups that spent money to try to influence elections. Prop. 211 passed with more than 70% of the vote and has survived legal challenges since.

But, as Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic reports, that has not led to more information about who’s funding these groups. Pitzl joined The Show to talk about what is — and perhaps more to the point, is not — happening.

Mary Jo Pitzl
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Mary Jo Pitzl in KJZZ's studio in 2018.

Full conversation

MARK BRODIE: Good morning, Mary Jo 

MARY JO PITZL: Morning Mark.

BRODIE: So let's remind everybody what exactly Prop. 211 requires. Like what kind of disclosure are we talking about? And for whom.

PITZL: Prop. 211 was written to get to the core names, the core donors who gave to, who give to committees that support or oppose candidates or ballot measures. Up until Prop. 211 was approved, We would have committees called independent expenditure committees that could file money in support of or against a candidate or a ballot measure in the name of just the committee and you wouldn't know where the committee gets its money. You didn't know the name. Prop. 211 forces disclosure of those donors, after certain spending benchmarks are hit.

BRODIE: And how is that disclosure supposed to happen? Like if I wanted to find out who was funding group X, how would I go about doing that?

PITZL: Well, that's, that's, I think still a pretty good question which I'm still trying to figure out. But, the report has to be on the Arizona Secretary of State's website. They have, in their campaign finance, they have a section of it that's devoted to independent expenditures. So you go there, but so far, there's nothing that is covered under Prop. 211. A bunch of reports popped up [Tuesday], that, excuse me, that pertain to smaller dollar efforts, but that are not at this point. Well, I should say that with, with a few exceptions, some of these should have more detail but,, that hasn't happened.

The Secretary of State's Office says that they've been having technological problems and they hope to have that resolved hopefully by Friday.

BRODIE: So they say that they have the reports, they just can't post them online yet, right?

PITZL: They said, they have six reports and I will say that,, one that's of great interest that popped up [Tuesday} is one from a group called Arizona First. They are, are spending $261,000 in a campaign opposing State Senator Wendy Rogers’ run for re-election. So you're like, OK, this is a big chunk of money. You know, Rogers is a, is a very high profile member of the Senate. Where is this money coming from?

Well, it's coming from somebody called Arizona First. You go to Arizona First report and it says that they get their money from and this is capitalized, as if it's a committee name, a group called Arizona Voters. There is no such thing registered with the Secretary of State and no data. So, what we're looking for is to see is, is this a report that's, I don't know, stuck in the technology gap at the SOS office right now. And will that become apparent later in the week? It's unclear at this point.

BRODIE: Well, it's interesting because as you report, it's not just voters who would like to like, know the names of the people who are funding these groups for and against candidates or, or ballot measures, but there are also people who are running or helping campaigns who would find this information helpful.

PITZL: Oh, very much. You know, it's, it's sort of nice to know, you know, who you're fighting and that, that is one of the intents of Prop. 211. It's, it's another step towards transparency in elections. I mean, if, if you give to a candidate,, any citizen who gives money to a candidate's committee, their names there, you know, they're, they're supposed to give their occupation, you know, and the amount of money that they gave.

But up until Prop. 211 passed, that was not the case for these independent expenditure committees. And that all goes back to a Supreme Court ruling from almost a decade ago. Why am I blanking on it? The, the …

BRODIE: Citizens United case.

PITZL: Thank you, the Citizens United case. This is an attempt to get down to let's name names of, of who are the primary donors and, and perhaps by Friday, we might know, you know, who is giving this money to the campaign to oppose Senator Rogers.

BRODIE: Right. Well, so we are, as we know, less than a month away from the primary, did the Secretary of State's Office say why they're still struggling to do this? I mean, it seems like the kind of thing that if they're having technical difficulties, maybe they should have figured that out a little earlier.

PITZL: Given that Prop. 211 was passed in late 2022.

BRODIE: Well, there's that, yeah.

PITZL: They Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, you know, sort of, sort of fell on his sword on this and said, look, you know, we, we have, what does he call it? Legacy technology, meaning technology that predates when he got into office? OK, he's been there for two years. And they've had a big turnover in their IT department. And as we hear from, you know, every Secretary of State who's ever held that office, they don't get enough money to deal with things.

It's important though to note that with this portion of,, of disclosure that relates to Proposition 211, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which is in charge of enforcing the, the dark money provisions or anti dark money provisions, gave $72,000 to the Secretary's Office to help facilitate this like electronic transfer and something's just not coming across in the pixels or so we are, so we are to believe.

BRODIE: Interesting. All right. Well, I guess we'll have to check out that website on Friday. See what pops up there. That is Mary Jo.

PITZL: We have nothing better to do after you have nothing better to do after July Fourth. Go check that out.

BRODIE: Maybe you've eaten too much at the barbecue. You, you sleep it off and, and check out some campaign finance reports.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text is edited for length and clarity, and may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.
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