No one's rights get hurt when we disclose who really bought that campaign ad

Arizona voters want a fuller picture of who is funding campaign ads.
Arizona voters want a fuller picture of who is funding campaign ads.

The “dark money” apologists are at it once again.

They have been relentlessly attacking Proposition 211, and this attack on our new transparency statute comes in an op-ed in The Arizona Republic (“Why disclosing ‘dark money’ donations actually hurts your freedom of speech”) claiming that disclosure “actually hurts your freedom of speech.”

Arizona voters disagree. Seventy-two percent of the vote in November affirmed the belief that disclosure of the original source of money spent on political campaign ads actually enhances the right to vote.

Obviously, a win of this size means that Arizonans of all parties and political beliefs support disclosing the real sponsor behind campaign ads. The new Arizona statute ensures that voters aren’t deceived any longer by special interests hiding behind front groups.

New law targets spending on campaign ads

Dark money effectively separated the actual source of the cash paying for political campaign ads from any responsibility for what the ad said. When lies and deception are spoken without proper attribution, responsible behavior and accountability fly out the window.

In November, Arizona voters approved their right to know the original source of campaign funds – the real source, not some name made up to hide the real sponsors. Knowing the sponsor is important to understanding the message.

Another view:Dark money overlords want to overturn voters

For example, groups opposing Proposition 211 tend to be funded by dark money and want to protect their franchise. Now that you know this – doesn’t it change your perception of their argument? The fervent desire to “protect free speech for all” might suddenly look like “let’s protect dark money so we can pay our bills.”

Contrary to the op-ed, Arizona’s new statute was carefully targeted to require disclosure of the original source of only those funds spent on campaign ads – provided that high thresholds are reached: The contribution must be more than $5,000 and the receiving organization’s total spending for political advertising must be more than $50,000 for state campaigns or $25,000 for local.

Moreover, donors who don’t want their names connected to certain causes can simply tell the big spenders not to use their donations for election ads. The spender can use the money for other purposes, including issue advocacy of importance to the donor.

Dark money has burned Arizona before

For many years, everyone in Arizona making a campaign contribution more than $50 had to disclose their name, home address and employer. Yet none of the horrible results imagined by the op-ed author have materialized.

Still, he prefers to ignore the 99% of political contributors who have been disclosing their identity without incident and focus on the less than 1% who want to continue hiding their identity so they can keep pouring tens of millions of dollars into Arizona elections without revealing who they are.

Arizonans been burned by dark money before. A painful example was in 2014 when Arizona Public Service used corporate funds to secretly support two candidates for the Corporation Commission. When those candidates were elected, they voted for a large rate increase. It was five years before the true source of more than $10 million in campaign funds was revealed.

Arizona consumers paid a high price for not knowing the source of the advertising money before the election when they could have voted to protect themselves. In the interest of fairness, we should note that before the passage of Proposition 211, APS renounced the use of dark money.

Contrary to the op-ed arguments, Proposition 211 surgically focuses on disclosing large political contributions, knowingly given to be spent on media campaign ads, and nothing else.

Constitution offers no 'right to hide'

The Supreme Court has consistently upheld this kind of disclosure because its benefits for democracy far outweigh any burdens. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in Citizens United, concluded that even if disclosure in some way “chilled” a speaker, it did not violate the First Amendment.

In short, our Constitution provides no “right to hide” from disclosure if you are a big political contributor.

The most eloquent defense of disclosure are the words of former Justice Antonin Scalia, who considered the possibility that disclosed donors might be criticized for their action and concluded:

“There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance. Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.

“For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously …  hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.”

Terry Goddard, a former Arizona attorney general and former Phoenix mayor; and David Tedesco, chief executive officer of Outlier, an Arizona based conglomerate; are co-chairs of Voters’ Right to Know (“Yes” on Prop 211). Share your thoughts at

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona voters deserve to know who paid for that campaign ad