Sooner or later, Arizona citizens will have to decide how much authority they want their state government to have.
For their part, state legislators continue to "poke the bear" and push the boundaries of their authority.
The most recent example is a request by Tucson-area Republican Vince Leach to Attorney General Mark Brnovich asking that his office investigate an ordinance adopted by the city of Tempe that requires transparent reporting of campaign donations of more than $1,000. Leach points to the ordinance as a violation of state law, and seeks to use the power of the attorney general to get the local regulation off the city's books, or face the prospect of losing state shared revenues.
Bisbee faced this same outcome with its ban of plastic bags, and Tucson ended an ordinance that allowed police to destroy guns confiscated from criminals when state lawmakers called on the attorney general to act.
Tempe's situation is similar, and very different from Bisbee and Tucson.
Despite overwhelming approval of the transparency ordinance by Tempe voters and members of the City Council, state law prohibits municipalities from requiring the identification of all campaign contributors. Like Bisbee and Tucson, it appears obvious that the attorney general will identify the ordinance as contrary to state statutes.
The state Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear in its rulings that local elections are not the province of the Legislature. Cities have successfully fought efforts by the Republican majority in Phoenix to require that candidates for local offices identify their party affiliation. Whether that same local authority applies to campaign donations may have to be clarified by the court if the attorney general decides Tempe's ordinance is a violation of state law and the city turns to the courts for relief.
Arizona citizens should also be offended by the Legislature's continued defense of "dark money," the anonymous campaign contributions that are effectively influencing the outcome of elections for state offices.
State law allows some political action committees to keep the identity of their contributors anonymous, which has allowed millions of dollars to be donated to the campaigns for statewide office. Gov. Ducey, for example, received more than $9 million from unnamed contributors during his most recent re-election bid.
Why would a candidate want to keep the identity of their donors anonymous?
Candidates fear the backlash of voters who recognize that large campaign contributions will assure the contributor access to a politician if they are elected. They also worry that these donations will appear to voters that the contributor has influence over their vote.
State lawmakers have consistently and vigilantly protected the "dark money" provision in Arizona statutes for their own self-interests. A citizens initiative petition drive to put an end to "dark money" in Arizona elections fell short in 2018 in part because it is difficult for voters to understand and lacks the emotional appeal of other issues.
We stand with Tempe voters on this question and against the imposed authority of state lawmakers. Defending "dark money" and extending state authority into issues of local concern are examples of bad government.