House vote keeps nonprofits from disclosing election funding

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

The Republican-controlled Arizona House on Tuesday voted to ban cities and towns from requiring nonprofit groups that spend money in elections to disclosure their donors.

The proposal would essentially negate a public vote next month in Tempe that would require nonprofits that spend more than $1,000 in local elections to reveal their donors.

The House action now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The mainly party-line, 33-25 vote came after extensive debate from Democrats opposed to the bill. They argue that voters deserve to know who is funding political advertising in elections. Republicans counter that anonymous political speech principals demand that groups be allowed to weigh in without their donors being harassed.

Both sides cited the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon, to back their position.

Republican Rep. Maria Syms said Scalia once said, "I don't care who is doing the speech - the more the merrier. People are not stupid. If they don't like it, they will shut it off."

Democrats said Scalia made other statements in favor of disclosure. The justice, who died in 2016, voted in favor of the controversial Citizens United decision, calling political donations a form of speech.

The measure targeting city elections comes two years after the Legislature and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey approved legislation that ceded regulation of so-called dark money and other nonprofit groups to the Internal Revenue Service. That measure doubled the amount dark money groups can spend on ballot measures, allowing nonprofits to spend more money influencing elections without having to reveal donors.

The Tempe measure is on the city's March 13 ballot.

Lawmakers also approved a measure that essentially repeals a 2016 law barring city candidates from transferring their campaign money to another campaign. The 2016 law only applied to city candidates - county and state candidates remained free to transfer their funds to another committee they formed.

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