Any entity that makes an independent expenditures and that is organized primarily for the purpose of influencing an election shall file with the filing officer as a political committee. § 16-914.02 (K)
In a victory for free speech, the US Supreme Court ruled in January of 2010 that unions, corporations and LLC’s could spend unlimited amounts on independent expenditures to influence elections. (Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission) Later that year, Arizona enacted legislation that governs the activities of these “Citizen United” entities. Today, Secretary of State Ken Bennett held a news conference to discuss the requirements for these entities and announced a random audit of those who have registered as such.
Arizona’s law is clear that any entity whose primary purpose is to influence elections, they must register as a political committee, disclose their contributors and list their expenditures. With very few exceptions, these groups must make known who is expressing their political speech and therefore influencing an election.
Over two dozen groups have been formed since Arizona provided the framework for “Citizen United” entities last year. Some of these who have participated in state and local elections have drawn bipartisan criticism and legal challenges.
We’ve seen a number of these entities participating in elections in Phoenix and Legislative District 18 over the last few months. During that time, the city clerk and our office received numerous complaints on the activities of these entities. In response, our office has reached out to these groups to bring them into compliance with the law. Many have disagreed with our requests and declined to register as political committees or file required expenditure notifications. As a result, they will now have the opportunity to make their case to state prosecutors.
Our office will never stand in the way of the right to exercise political speech, but hiding contributions and expenditures which influence elections circumvents transparency and disclosure. As reasonable regulators, we consistently work with political committees, candidates and other organizations to ensure that they are compliant with campaign finance law. But if we determine that any of these entities are influencing elections and not abiding by state requirements, we will not hesitate refer these cases to the Attorney General for enforcement.
Over the next month, the Secretary of State’s office will be conducting a random audit of organizations that have registered as “Citizen United” entities that properly registered. As a part of the review, the office is requesting a detailed description of their activities to help determine whether their primary purpose may be influencing elections.
Many of these groups are doing things right and playing by the rules. It’s important that our office provide as much clarity as possible as we move into next year’s busy election cycle, and this audit will help us all do that.