Dark money groups have already poured more than $5 million into Arizona’s elections this cycle. These organizations, carefully constructed to protect the identities of their contributors, play a heavy hand in influencing election outcomes.
This is because Arizona places no restrictions on the dark money groups, and there is no legal obligation to reveal contributors. As a result, Arizona is quickly becoming the Cayman Islands for moving dark money.
I’ve investigated this kind of activity before. As Arizona’s attorney general, I spent eight years going after drug cartels by following the money. Our team dug through cartel money transfers and seized millions of dollars. Dark money groups are just money launderers by another name. They are moving money, often vast sums of it, while carefully concealing its original source.
Clearly, dark money damages our democracy. An important way to evaluate a candidate is by considering who supports him or her. Endorsements are scrutinized and contributors analyzed for evidence of what direction the candidate is leaning. But by hiding major contributors, dark money groups are deceiving voters.
Since those behind the dark money groups are not accountable for their statements, they can — and will — say anything. How can voters hold dark money groups responsible for any half-truths or outright lies they put in their ads?
One strategy pursued by the Arizona Clean Elections Commission is to determine whether these groups are actually engaged in the social welfare work their nonprofit organizing documents claim that they are. In many cases, the large contributions designed to influence elections significantly outweigh any educational or public benefit expenditure. Such organizations are really political and under Arizona law should disclose their donors like an Independent Expenditure or a Political Action Committee, or any other political organization.
There is a path to fighting these groups, and it’s by going after dark money the same way I went after money laundering for drug cartels as Arizona’s Attorney General, with good law enforcements procedures, careful research, and dogged determination. In addition, the Secretary of State could publicize the names of groups that continue to conceal the original source of their funds and what candidates they are attempting to help. This could go a long way to diminish their protection of unlimited political spending.
Arizona desperately needs an effective anti-dark money law, one that requires all politically active groups to disclose their donors, just as every other political contributor has to do.
We can’t wait for political parties or partisan caucuses to sort things out – they probably never will. In the last session, the Arizona legislature made an unsubstantial, token gesture at reigning in these groups. Feeble as it was, it never even got a floor vote in either chamber, because some politicians have too much to lose. Ultimately, it may be necessary to draft a ballot initiative to give Arizona voters the chance to stop dark money once and for all.
Fighting dark money isn’t a Republican or a Democratic issue – it’s not partisan at all. Dark money contaminates the election process for both sides, and it must be stopped.
Terry Goddard is a Clean Elections candidate running to bring his record of effective public service as Arizona’s Attorney General, Mayor of Phoenix, federal housing official, CAP Board Member and teacher, to the Secretary of State’s Office. As Arizona’s Attorney General, he received national recognition for his work protecting Arizona consumers and vows to do the same for Arizona voters.