Tuesday, September 21, 2010

FOLLOWING MONEY IN POLITICS: New Minnesota Ruling Bodes Well For Arizona Law

I was putting together a report the last couple of days on whether corporations could work their way into state elections here in Arizona, post-Citizens United.  I had just come to the conclusion that it would be very difficult, when - BAM! - news came down about a federal judge in Minnesota reaching the same conclusion. 

Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Coastal Travel Enterprises sued to overturn a new Minnesota law that requires disclosure of corporate contributions to independent expenditure committees.  U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank refused to grant a preliminary injunction to the plaintiffs on Monday.

The judge wrote that he doubted that they could prove that the disclosure law hampers their right to free speech, and said that the law serves an important government interest.

"Such transparency assures that the electorate will be able to make informed decisions and properly evaluate the speakers and their messages.  Invalidating the election laws at issue here would likely result in corporations making independent expenditures without any reporting or disclosure on the eve of the upcoming general election on Nov. 2. This result so close to the election would clearly harm the state, Minnesota voters, and the general public interest."
The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case this past January opened up new avenues for corporations, labor unions and other groups (such as 501(c)(4)'s) to support (or oppose) candidates.  However, the Justices did explicitly approve of reasonable disclosure requirements.  The Minnesota disclosure laws came to national attention earlier this fall when it was learned that Target Corp., Best Buy, and Regis Corp. had contributed six-figure amounts to a group that was running advertisements for a conservative Minnesota candidate for governor.

Arizona also rushed a new statute onto the books to regulate election-related expenditures by "corporations, limited liability corporations and labor organizations."  A.R.S. Sec. 16-914.02 was signed into law on April 1, 2010 (and went into effect immediately), requiring them to notify the Secretary of State (for statewide or legislative) within one day of the expenditure.  The corp/LLC/union (which includes groups of said entities) must register and provide a copy of the advertisement (etc.), and the Secretary of State has to make the information available on the internet.

Arizona's law may be a bit more restrictive than Minnesota's, and may be subject to challenge.  To date, no such challenges have been made (to my knowledge), and it is hard to imagine one being successful at this point in the election cycle.

Arizona's Politics intends to monitor the Secretary of State's website, as well as other notable influxes of independent expenditure funds.  If you wish to bring any instances to our attention, please e-mail to info-at-arizonaspolitics-dot-com.

We welcome your comments about this post. If you have something unrelated on your mind, please e-mail to info-at-arizonaspolitics-dot-com. Thanks.

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