Last week's Farley report detailing the disastrous Ducey budget (that favors private prisons over public schools and never even considered suspending ineffective massive tax giveaways to big corporations) demonstrated what happens when money becomes the most important factor in our democratic process.
When campaign spending is unlimited and anonymous, we risk a state that is governed to benefit the large contributors. The rest of us fight for the scraps and are unable to even figure out the identity of those deep-pocketed individuals who have conspired to gain this influence.
That's why I am continuing to put forward bills that force disclosure of dark money.
This year, I am focusing on two areas: 1) Forcing special interest nonprofits that spend money to lobby legislators to register as lobbyists -- most notably ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), and the Goldwater Institute; and 2) Outlawing hiding the identity of a campaign contributor -- the central tenet of dark money.
--> The first bill is SB1129, the reintroduction of my ALEC Accountability Act, which I first introduced three years ago, and was explored at length in the Bill Moyers documentary, "United States of ALEC" on PBS in 2012.
Right now at the capitol, a back-door system of lobbyist-funded scholarships, not regulated or usually disclosed to the public, fund lawmaker participation in American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conferences that promote an ideological agenda.
This system also actively provides fancy accommodations, upscale dining and entertainment "networking" opportunities in cities around the country. (In fact, this year's ALEC membership drive and steak dinner will be held at Donovan's Steak & Chop House, 3101 E. Camelback in Phoenix, starting at 6pm on February 18, if you are interested in seeing who shows up.)
ALEC lobbies lawmakers and it is quite effective in doing so. ALEC model legislation that has been promoted and adopted by the legislature is evidence of this -- you can read an excellent independent report exposing the connections between ALEC model legislation and Arizona bills here: http://site.pfaw.org/pdf/ALEC-IN-ARIZONA.pdf
Right now, ALEC operates outside the rules that limit lobbyist influence in Arizona. But these special interests clearly have a purpose for funding ALEC and ALEC clearly has an aggressive agenda it is actively promoting in states across the country. For instance, ALEC has a history of promoting state spending on one of their sponsors, the Corrections Corporation of America, which happens to now dominate the Arizona private prison business.
The public has the right to know who funds ALEC's activities, who funds legislators' costs associated with attending ALEC meetings and conferences around the country and which legislators are accepting those funds.
Arizona's citizens also have a right to ensure that, as a lobbying entity, ALEC complies with the laws in place to limit the influence of lobbyists on Arizona's political process. The ALEC Accountability Act requires ALEC to adhere to the same laws that other lobbying entities must follow.
It is time to shine the light on who funds this organization and who funds the travel and other participation costs of legislators active in groups like ALEC. It is also time that the public knows what legislators are taking “scholarship” or other funding to pay for travel and lodging costs for ALEC and other conferences, including NCSL and CSG, and what special interests are paying for those trips.
Right now to get this information, a regular citizen must file a public records request. But I believe it should be easily be accessible via the Arizona Secretary of State’s website.
Lastly, there is a need to make sure any entity acting in a lobbyist capacity is required to register as a lobbyist and comply with the regulations and public disclosure laws applicable to lobbyists.
Some special interest groups, such as the Goldwater Institute, define their regular testimony in front of legislative committees as “technical assistance” or “legal advice,” thus skirting the lobbyist registration requirements, while others like the Arizona Education Association forthrightly register themselves as lobbyists. These loopholes must be closed so that any person or entities acting as lobbyists are required to register as lobbyists.
This bill will help lawmakers be more effective for the actual people they are representing – the people of Arizona – instead of serving corporate special interests. This has been assigned to the Government committee.
--> The second bill is SB 1101, this year's version of the dark money bill sponsored by then-Senator (now Secretary of State) Michelle Reagan and I after many months of stakeholder meetings with activists and attorneys from the left, right, and middle, including folks like Mike Liburdi who is now Governor Ducey's Chief Counsel, Clean Elections Director Tom Collins, Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr, and 16 other people who were very forthcoming in helping us figure out ways we can force disclosure of the original contributors.
The main point is to make it a felony to hide or attempt to hide the identity of one or more contributors to a campaign. In the words of ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, the bill:
Between last session and this one, now-Secretary Reagan accepted dark money for her campaign to win her office. I am hoping that she still supports this bill, since I know she understands the corrosive influence that anonymous money can have on our democracy. Our voters deserve to know who is attempting to buy our votes.
This has been single-assigned to the Government committee, and Chairman Kavanagh has indicated to me that he may hear the bill. This has legs.
--> I'm also still pushing for a sustainable source of funding for our transportation system, which is in danger of crumbling due to the collapse of our gas tax revenues. We Pima County residents experience the effects of falling funding every day in the form of potholes on our streets. I am gaining increasing support for three of my funding bills this year, including from a very determined group of primarily Republican rural leaders from across the state who were meeting at the Capitol today to share their plight.
As I have often said, transportation is a non-partisan issue. Roads are grey, not red or blue. It's time we leaders from all sides grew up and acknowledged that we can't expect to get the things we need without paying for them. And I believe, based on my own past experience, that when leaders identify fair sources of funding and ensure that the money is spent transparently and accountably on needed projects, our citizens will support our efforts. In that regard, here are the bills I am introducing this year:
--> SB 1108 task force; gas tax replacement. Establishes a highway user fee replacement task force, consisting of 24 members from across the state representing a broad range of public and private interests, to develop a design for revenue collection for this state's transportation system that will replace the gas and diesel taxes. Upon receipt of the task force recommendations, ADOT would develop a pilot program to test the proposed fuel tax alternatives. This has been assigned to Transportation, Appropriations, and Finance -- a tough triple committee assignment.
--> SB 1109 lottery; funding; LTAF restoration. Re-establishes the previously eliminated Local Transportation Assistance Fund (LTAF), County Assistance Fund (CAF) and State Parks Board Heritage Fund (PHF). LTAF would be guaranteed at least $20.5 million a year, funded from lottery profits, of which there are more than enough. The LTAF portion pays for transit projects. Currently, only Maricopa County gets LTAF funds ($11.2 million a year) because a court order required the state to pay them to comply with the Clean Air Act. We need to restore LTAF to everyone as a matter of fairness. This has been assigned to Transportation and Appropriations.
--> SB 1159 county motor vehicle fuel taxes. Allows counties to levy by ordinance a tax on wholesale on gas and diesel sold in the county, up to three percent of the total retail sale of the fuel. Funds collected would be distributed by the county’s regional planning organization, the metropolitan planning organization or the council of governments for transportation projects. This has been assigned to Transportation and Finance.
I'm now working to get these bills heard. Please help me by making your voices heard, too!
--> Post-Super-Bowl Surprise! Groundhog day is guaranteed to bring a lot of unpleasant surprises here in the Legislature. There has been a very low number of bills introduced to date, with a lot of them simply technical corrections acting as vehicles for future "strikers" -- bills that are replaced by other unrelated bills much like zombies. There could be a rather unpleasant explanation.
Word is, certain legislators hailing from the far right wing are holding off to introduce their more extreme bills until after the Super-Bowl-generated media spotlight has moved away from Arizona on Monday, which is also the last day to introduce Senate bills. Perhaps the fact that they are embarrassed to show their bills to a national audience ought to tell them something about the relative worth of those bills. At any rate, I will let you know what ends up in the bin next week.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson