First Amendment

First Amendment text of the US Constitution on old parchment paper

(The Center Square) – Among the 10 non-candidate decisions Arizona voters can choose from on their ballots Tuesday is Proposition 211, a measure supporters say would eliminate “dark money” but opponents warn could reach far beyond political campaign disclosure. 

Voters will decide whether to require “additional disclosures and reporting by entities and persons whose campaign media spending and/or in-kind contributions for campaign media spending exceeds $50,000 in statewide campaigns or $25,000 in other campaigns, including identifying original donors of contributions of more than $5,000 in aggregate; creating penalties for violations of the law; and allowing the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to adopt rules and enforce the provisions of the law.”

The initiative would require non-candidate entities the proposition considers “covered” under the new rules to disclose many donors if they convey messages about a candidate. Unions, corporate media, and technology platforms would be exempt.

The way a cause could be forced to disclose donors starts with any Arizona citizen filing a complaint to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, compelling them to investigate. Even if the commission doesn’t find evidence requiring the nonprofit to disclose donors, the citizen can file a civil suit, forcing a potentially costly legal battle. 

Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard has been pushing the measure for several years. 

“We believe knowing who is running political ads is critical to understanding their message and motivation,” Goddard said of his proposition. “Without accountability for what is said, those running misleading or inaccurate ads face no consequences and politics becomes dirtier.”

Scot Mussi, president of the nonprofit Arizona Free Enterprise Club, says the matter is likely an unconstitutional infringement of free speech. 

“One of the bedrock principles our country was founded upon was the right to free speech, which includes being able to support causes and issues they believe in without fear of harassment and intimidation,” he said. “Just last year the [U.S. Supreme Court] affirmed this right, declaring that any effort to require non-profit organizations to publish the names of their donors and supporters is unconstitutional.”

Mussi notes that the effort would subject donors to the recent harassment campaigns that have become common under “cancel culture.” The phenomenon is characterized by a semi-private individual or public-serving business facing backlash in the form of boycotts, threats, or campaigns to harm a person with the intent to scare others off from doing what that person or business did.

“They want the names of private citizens so that they can doxx, harass and cancel them in their communities,” Mussi said.

Managing Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a managing editor for The Center Square covering the western United States. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.