Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan is going to ask the Legislature this year for a major overhaul of nearly every aspect of the state’s “weird amendment tree” of laws governing state-level campaign finance.
The goal, said Eric Spencer, elections director for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, is to make the electoral process more accessible, logical and transparent to those who choose to engage in it, whether they are seasoned veterans or hopeful newcomers.
“The existing law is mind-numbing,” said Spencer during his Jan. 4 presentation to the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce Legal & Regulatory Reform Committee. “You shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer to engage in politics and exercise your First Amendment rights. There’s a better way to do it.”
The team at the Secretary of State’s Office started by assessing the problems with existing statutes. And they found a lot…of words. To be exact, Spencer found 18,475 words scattered across 32 statutes governing campaign finance. He described the collection of laws as wordy, incomprehensible at times, lacking in uniformity, non-sequential, cluttered, redundant and partially unconstitutional.
An additional challenge faced by government agencies in general, including the Secretary of State’s Office, is a reliance on paper records and operating a paper-based system. In general, the proposed new statutes will allow for sorely-needed technological advancements and a move toward a technology-first approach to governance.
“Myself, Deputy Secretary (Lee) Miller and especially (Secretary) Reagan are techies,” Spencer said. “We don’t like when paper comes across our counter. We are captives to various statutory provisions that trap us in a paper-based system – we are going to revolutionize that.”
Spencer’s proposed revolution – in campaign finance at least – comes in streamlined and ordered similar to a book’s table of contents at a trim 8,600 words – a 54 percent reduction in words used to articulate the current campaign finance structure. Many outdated requirements will be eliminated. All committees will accept and provide communications by email.
“Existing statutes, like a forest, need to be thinned every 10 to 15 years,” Spencer said. “This is the equivalent of a controlled burn that we want to initiate.”
Spencer said the biggest problem with the existing system is its requirement that political committees must choose to be identified as one of 10 committee types. “This is based on the silly premise that you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time,” Spencer said.
The new system embraces hybrid committees. “It makes no sense in today’s political world to make one committee exclusively devoted to IEs and you have to make a separate committee if you want to make direct contributions to candidates,” Spencer said.
Another highlight of the proposed new system is a more regular, quarterly reporting system for campaigns and committees, which will eliminate special notification requirements for $10,000 donations to political action committees and reduce campaign finance complaints.
The new campaign finance law draft also looks out for candidates running much smaller campaigns. Currently, candidates who expect to receive or spend $500 or less in their campaign are required to file a “$500 Threshold Exemption” form with the state prior to engaging in any campaign-related activities.
“You have to tell the government in advance that you exist and you, in effect, have to get permission to exercise your First Amendment rights. This is going to be gone. There is no need to hamstring people like that,” Spencer said.
Another big change will eliminate the “Super” name from Arizona Super PACs, replacing that name designation with the name “Mega” PAC. This distinction became necessary after the name “SuperPAC” became understood nationally after the Citizens United ruling to mean any independent expenditure-only PAC that takes unlimited sums of money from corporations and others and spends unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.
In Arizona, the Super PAC designation merely allows PACs to contribute more money to candidates, and, given the evolution of the definition of Super PAC, a new name was needed.
There are many more common-sense changes to the campaign finance statutes, but these are some of the highlights. Ultimately, everyone from corporations all the way to individuals should benefit from these proposed changes.
“This new draft is probably the most corporate-friendly and trade association-friendly draft you’ll ever see,” Spencer said.
– Josh Coddington, marketing and communications manager, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.