PHOENIX -- Saying they're protecting people from harassment, the state Senate on Wednesday voted to block cities and counties from requiring "dark money'' groups from disclosing their donors.
HB 2153 bars any local ordinance that requires non-profit groups seeking to influence local elections to register as political action committees. And it specifically prohibits any mandate to identify contributors.
The move came over the objection of several Democrat lawmakers who said they have yet to hear from any of their constituents that the want less information about the source of funding of these groups.
If it becomes law, it most immediately would override a recent vote in Tempe to force public disclosure of the spending on local races. More to the point, that ordinance requires the public be told who is behind any effort that spends more than $1,000.
Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe, pointed out that got the approval of 91 percent of Tempe voters.
"I don't know of any one of us in this room that got 91 percent of the vote,'' he said. And Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said that margin proves broad bipartisan support.
But it also would affect not only current local financial disclosure laws as well as preempt efforts in other communities to find out who is putting dollars into local races. Quezada said lawmakers should be paying more attention to voters.
"They are the ones who are supposed to be our bosses, not the people who are spending millions of dollars in our campaigns,'' he said.
But Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said she sees the issue from the perspective of protecting what she said are constitutional rights.
"Citizens have a right to privacy,'' she said. "They have a right to give their money to whatever cause they deem is right.''
More to the point, Allen said there is a real need for that privacy.
"The problem is that the Left will use this information and they harass businesses,'' she said.
"They go after businesses, they go after individuals, and they make their lives so miserable when they find out that they've donated to a cause that they don't agree to,'' Allen said. "It's their money and they can give it to whoever they want.''
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said there's a flaw to that argument.
He said following that logic would mean that lawmakers could cast their votes in secret to prevent them from being harassed. And that, Farley said, makes no sense.
"If someone takes part in the political process, it should be something that takes part in the public,'' he said.
"That transparency and accountability is the foundation of democracy,'' Farley said. "If we make laws in private, if our political process takes place in private, if we don't know who's giving the money, then who's going to trust the bills and laws we come up with here?''
The measure, which already has been approved by the House, now awaits a final Senate roll-call vote before going to the governor.