Court Limits Dark Money for State Elections

Aug 8, 2014

A new ruling from the state court of appeals could limit some of the dark money commercials and mailers in state politics. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer explains.

Attorney General Tom Horne

In 2010, the Committee for Justice and Fairness spent $1.5 million on a commercial saying that when Tom Horne was a legislator he voted against tougher for penalties for statutory rape. And, it said that in his then-current job as school superintendent he voted to let a teacher back in the classroom who was viewing porn on a school computer. The group refused to disclose its funding, arguing it was simply educating people.

But, the appellate court, citing its timing just weeks before the election, said the clear purpose was to undermine Horne’s bid for attorney general. Tom Irvine who represents the committee, said the judges got it wrong.

“The U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, said that you cannot engage in a contextual analysis. And the contextual analysis is hey, there’s an election. Hey, this person’s running,” Irvine said.

Potentially more significant, the appellate court ruled you don’t need magic words like “vote for” or “oppose” to conclude a commercial is really political — and who paid for it must be disclosed. Secretary of State Ken Bennett said the ruling is a victory for voters.

“It sends a signal to anyone else that’s spending large amounts of money to influence an election that when they do so they need to be disclosing to the voters of Arizona where that money’s coming from,” Bennett said.

It was only discovered after the 2010 election the ad was paid for by the Democratic Attorney Generals Association which supported Felecia Rotellini.