Editorial: Ban on ‘dark money’ makes sense

This cartoon from The Daily Courier’s archives was published in 2016.

This cartoon from The Daily Courier’s archives was published in 2016.

We have a right to know who is influencing an election, and voters in 2018 may get a chance to change the rules.

An effort spearheaded by former Attorney General Terry Goddard would ban anonymous donations from political campaigns. The initiative would guarantee voters are entitled to know who is trying to sway their votes on who to elect for everything from statewide offices to school board members, according to Capitol Media Services.

The measure Goddard hopes to put to voters also would impose the same requirements on those pushing future ballot measures.

“We’re done with this whole ‘dark money’ nonsense,” Campaign consultant Bob Grossfeld said, referring to the term that has become synonymous in political rhetoric with dollars coming from unknown sources. “This is no different than criminal syndicates who are laundering money. It’s for the same purposes: to hide the people behind it.”

However, the issue is not so simple.

It could let voters know who’s behind the $9 million, for example, that was spent to influence the 2014 gubernatorial race in which Republican Doug Ducey and Democrat Fed DuVal faced off.

It happened too in the Arizona Corporation Commission election in which two Republicans were elected with more than $3 million spent by outside groups.

Let’s be clear though: the ballot measure would not be retroactive. However, should these things happen in the next election we would know if it was a billionaire, a utility company, a special interest group or whomever working to sway the votes.

And while it also may prevent “chain” donations — in which individual or group A gives money to organization B, which then gives money to organization C that spends money on the race — it may not help closer to home.

In Prescott, mysterious mailers have played a part in the city elections this year. Two, funded by outside interests, targeted one mayoral candidate, and at least one other had another candidate in its sights.

Yet, while the final language of the “right to know” initiative is still being tweaked, Grossfeld said the measure is designed to expose anyone who puts at least $10,000 into any campaign, whether for public office or a ballot measure.

In the Prescott election, according to the latest finance reports, the largest donations were far short of that. Thus, if the limit remains with a floor of $10,000, it may affect only statewide races.

Still, we do have a right to know and the measure would be a start.

Otherwise, our politicians could be puppets of the Koch brothers or George Soros — or whoever else.

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