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8:25 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

State Supreme Court rejects last-ditch effort to ban ‘dark money’

The lawsuit is attempting to block an initiative that would essentially insert “right-to-know’’ language into the Arizona Constitution. It not only mandates disclosure of any individual, association or corporation that spends at least $2,500 in any two-year election cycle but also imposes fines triple to the undisclosed amount. (WNI Illustration)

The lawsuit is attempting to block an initiative that would essentially insert “right-to-know’’ language into the Arizona Constitution. It not only mandates disclosure of any individual, association or corporation that spends at least $2,500 in any two-year election cycle but also imposes fines triple to the undisclosed amount. (WNI Illustration)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court late Aug. 29 rejected a last-ditch effort by supporters of a ban on “dark money’’ in political races to put the issue to voters in November.

In a brief order, the justices rejected arguments by attorney Kimberly Demarchi that Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders improperly and illegally refused to count the signatures on several petition sheets. That ruling clearly left the initiative with fewer than the 225,963 valid signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot.

The initiative would have asked voters overturn existing laws that allow groups established under the Internal Revenue Code as “social welfare organizations’’ to spend money to influence state and local races without disclosing the source of their donors. Instead, any individual that put in at least $2,500 would have to be named.

That leaves in place not only the state law shielding donors who give to organizations seeking to affect state and legislative elections.

It also leaves intact another law, approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year, prohibiting local governments from imposing their own disclosure requirements. That most immediately overruled an ordinance approved by Tempe voters on a 91-9 margin. Demarchi was challenging the law that requires automatic disqualification of petitions when circulators do not show up. If nothing else, she argued that the law does not comply with court rules that the people issuing the subpoenas show they have been properly served. And Demarchi said it was wrong to let challengers to the initiative wait until 11 days before the trial to even mention that they planned to subpoena circulators.

“The voters of Arizona are being deprived of even the opportunity to consider the proposed amendment referred for their consideration by hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens,’’ Demarchi told the justices. “This result should not be permitted to stand.’’

The justices saw it otherwise, upholding the law without comment.

Even if Demarchi had prevailed, the odds still were against the measure making it to the ballot.

A random check by county recorders of the signatures collected concluded that the petitions came up 2,017 short of the 225,963 to put the issue on the ballot, even before Sanders had tossed the other petitions.

Chief Justice Scott Bales, in writing the order keeping the measure off the ballot, said their finding in favor of Sanders on the petition-disqualification law made it unnecessary for them to look at other legal issues related to the initiative.