Originally Published: August 23, 2018 2:16 p.m.
PHOENIX - The question of whether voters get to outlaw "dark money'' will depend on what judges think of the signatures collected.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Michele Reagan reported the Outlaw Dirty Money campaign came up 2,071 short of the 225,963 valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. That follows action by the 15 county recorders who each were given a 5 percent sample to verify the names.
But Kim Demarchi, who represents the initiative organizers told Capitol Media Services the fight to put the issue to voters is far from over.
She claims the Secretary of State's Office improperly removed 8,042 signatures from the total that were submitted. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders is expected to rule on that claim no later than Thursday.
At the same time, though, Sanders also is weighing claims by attorney Kory Langhofer, representing those who want to quash the initiative, that Reagan's office allowed some petitions to be counted -- and the up to 15 signatures on each of them -- even though he contends they were circulated by people who were not legally qualified. That includes convicted felons and people who did not provide a proper address.
Whoever loses in Sanders' court is virtually certain to seek Arizona Supreme Court review.
But even that is not the end of the legal maneuvering.
Demarchi said she is filing suit against several county recorders -- the people who checked the random samples -- contending that they erred in concluding that some of the signatures were not from valid registered voters.
The outcome of those lawsuits could have a major impact.
That's because the counties get a 5 percent sample. So for each signature that Demarchi can get a judge to rule as valid, that translates to 20 signatures in the total needed to qualify.
Those cases are likely to drag into next week.
Hanging in the balance is whether Arizona voters get to enact what amounts to a "right-to-know'' provision in the state constitution.
Current law says those who contribute to candidates must disclose their identities. There also are similar requirements when groups spend money independently to help elect or defeat a candidate.
But the Republican-controlled Legislature has said that groups seeking to influence statewide races need not disclose donors if they are set up under the Internal Revenue Code as a "social welfare'' organizations.
Those groups qualify for the special charity status if no more than half their spending is on political races. But there is no absolute dollar figure on how much they can give.
And the record shows that they do put a lot of money into Arizona campaigns.
In 2014, for example, American Encore spent more than $1.4 million on Arizona races. And while it is known the group originated with an organization founded by the Koch Brothers, there is nothing on the record of who put up those dollars.
What is known is some of that American Encore money helped Republican Doug Ducey defeat Democrat Fred DuVal in the gubernatorial race.
Overall, outside groups spent more than $8 million on Ducey's behalf in that campaign, outstripping the $7.9 Ducey spent himself that he got from donors whose identities he was required to disclose.
Earlier this year, lawmakers extended the same protection from disclosure to entities seeking to affect local races, effectively overriding a vote by Tempe residents, on a 91-9 margin, to require financial disclosure of all sources of funding on city races.
This initiative, back by a bipartisan group including two former attorneys general, would put a provision in the Arizona Constitution to require that the public be given the actual identity of anyone who has contributed more than $2,500 to affect any political campaign. And as a constitutional amendment it could not be altered by lawmakers without taking the issue back to the ballot.