For those of you new to seeing policy analysis in this otherwise community and real estate newsletter, here’s the deal. Since your’s truly (Ken) is a policy nerd who believes that the real estate market is directly impacted by public policy, I’m going to choose topics of general interest having to do with policy once per month for a deeper dive.
Those of you who follow me know that I have fought against dark money for years, along with people like Terry Goddard and a whole bi-partisan list of folks. You can learn more here, where they like to use the term “dirty money”.
First, what is dark money? Its money that is spent for or against candidates for office or ballot measures where the public does not know where the money is coming from. Some people use the term incorrectly to refer to all campaign spending, but that is misleading (sometimes intentionally).
Dark money has a specific definition and it is insidious. Why? Because if we don’t know who is trying to influence our elections, we don’t get a full picture of what their interests are in trying to change our laws. As Supreme Court Justice Scalia once said “For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously . . . hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.”
Second, why does a realtor care? Simple, if our laws in Arizona are written such that people outside of the state or outside of the country can use money to pull the levers of our democracy, then how can you be certain that the long-term planning and policies which affect your biggest personal investment are made for the greater good? For example, out-of-country investors are buying up water rights and may be able to use hidden dark money to get people elected to water district boards or the legislature to protect their interests rather than ours. If our water is wasted, how can you know that your home will have value 20 years from now?
Third, the problem: campaign finance law is really complex, meaty and frankly a little boring for people who don’t nerd-out on the topic, like me. Heck. Just look at how long this blog post is, and that’s just to give you the basic background so I can tell you this…
…the Superior Court in Maricopa struck a blow this week against a 2016 law put in place by the Arizona Legislature that re-wrote our entire campaign finance statute in a way that specifically allowed more dark money to flow in to our elections. That law is commonly known as Senate Bill 1516.
I won’t get in to the meaty details about what arguments were used to over-turn many parts of the law. But I want to summarize two things for you.
First, the only body in the state now that has a strong record of attempting to require disclosure of dark money is the Clean Elections Commission. This was put in place in 1998 by a ballot measure put forward by voters to try to fight the corrupting influence of campaign contributions.
In short, SB1516 re-wrote campaign finance law in such a way as to do an end-run around the Clean Elections Commission. The court today said that major parts of SB1516 cannot stand because the violated what is called the Prop105 provisions of the constitution –specifically that the legislature cannot undo the will of the voters.
Second, the part of the act that I found the most egregious has been ruled against by this judge. SB1516 basically allowed dark money from individuals, unions or corporations to be given to the political parties and then specifically designated to be spent in support of party candidates.
Why is this a problem?
Well, it used to be called “earmarking” and leads to candidates doing favors for people or groups that we can’t see. Under SB1516 we can no longer prohibit this or ask where the money is coming from. Because of this ruling, the Clean Elections Commission has some ability to try to disclose this.
So, are we in the clear? No, and for two reasons. First, this case will now go to the Arizona Supreme Court, which has a habit of siding against the right of the people on elections matters. Second, the legislature passed Prop306 which goes a long way to undermine the Clean Elections Commission via other means.
Alright, what can you do about it? I’d say first, follow and support the efforts of the Outlaw Dirty Money Effort. Second, pledge only to vote for candidates to will fight to outlaw dark money and who will stand up and reject when it is spent on their behalf.