Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard Leads Effort To Rid 'Dark Money' From Elections

By Jill Ryan
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Thursday, May 13, 2021 - 8:51am
Updated: Thursday, May 13, 2021 - 8:52am

Terry Goddard
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Terry Goddard in 2018 with boxes of petitions for an initiative to ban "dark money" in politics.

Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard is on his third attempt to rid elections of so-called “dark money,” this time by changing state election laws. 

In current law, people who directly donate more than $50 to a candidate or initiative campaign must publicly disclose who they are. But there is no such disclosure law for those who donate to third party entities working on behalf of a candidate or initiative. 

This new initiative Goddard is trying to put on the Arizona ballot, if passed, would require the public disclosure of the true source of donations of more than $5,000 spent by organizations in support of, or opposing, any candidate or ballot measure. Current law exempts these "social welfare'' organizations from having to list their contributors.

Then, once any statewide campaign spends or accepts $50,000 — $25,000 for local or legislative races — it would have to start filing public reports of the source of the funds received, providing the name, mailing address, occupation and employer of anyone who has contributed at least $5,000. More important, that includes not just who is the direct donor but where that entity got the money.

Goddard said any group spending money on Arizona races that can't trace back and identify the ultimate source of the cash has to give the money back. And he said if they use it anyway on media campaigns they are subject to fines equal to three times the amount of the unidentified cash.

Goddard needs 237,645 signatures by the July 8, 2022, deadline to get this statutory amendment on the Arizona ballot.

"I believe strongly that Arizona voters should have the right to know who is trying to grab their votes. Knowing who's behind the curtain is critical to living in a democracy," Goddard said. 

But Republican Senator J.D. Mesnard has concerns. 

"On the one hand, do I want to know what money is influencing an election? Yeah, I do. Especially, again, when it comes to candidates, it needs to be fully disclosed. But on the other hand, am I concerned in this day and age about people being harassed or financially ruined for expressing their views about something? I am more concerned about that, especially because it is a constitutional right," Mesnard said. 

Goddard says the measure protects donors who give less than $5,000. Also, the initiative does contain a provision that allows those who believe they, or their families, would be subject to "serious physical harm'' to petition the Citizens Clean Elections Commission for an exemption from disclosure.