Robert Robb, The Republic | azcentral.com3 p.m. MST March 18, 2016
The reaction to Secretary of State Michele Reagan’s campaign finance law rewrite is overwrought, particularly the accusation that it reduces disclosure for dark-money groups.
What disclosure? The dark-money scolds routinely complain that existing disclosure laws are toothless. And, in terms of forcing disclosure of campaign contributors who prefer to remain anonymous, they are.
Existing law requires registration and reporting of contributions if the “primary purpose” of a group is “influencing the results of any election.” Dark-money groups claim that their primary purpose is otherwise or that the money they spent was issue advocacy, not to influence an election.
And if they register and report, funding sources are nested so the only contributions disclosed are from other innocuous sounding organizations.
Federal laws and regulations limit the amount of political activity nonprofits can engage in. They have to mostly do other stuff. The Reagan reform would deem conforming federal nonprofits not to have the primary purpose of influencing an election under Arizona law.
This is what lawyers call a bright-line test, something that can be determined without subjective judgment.
Bright-line tests are good in campaign laws. There should be more of them.
The Reagan reform is a dark-money sideshow. The real problem is that no one has yet figured out how to craft a law that would actually force the disclosure of contributors who prefer to remain anonymous.
If anyone ever makes that breakthrough, that will be the time to beat the drums for dark-money disclosure reform.
The Reagan rewrite, however, is intended to clean up existing law, not blaze new ground. While awaiting such a breakthrough, the proposed bright-line test for “primary purpose” is a defensible clarification.
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org.