Dark Money in Arizona

No matter what our political persuasions, most Arizonans want to know when special interest is trying to influence policy or buy an elected official. We want dollar amounts. We want names. This is our state. Transparency is not a red or blue issue, it’s an all-American right. Regardless of political persuasion, we know that big, anonymous, corporate money thrown at public issues or candidates skews and obfuscates the debate. In the Grand Canyon state we like to think of ourselves as more independent, not beholden to the power brokers to the east or west of us. So it was shocking to read recently that, “Arizona has become ground zero in the fight over secret, political spending.” How could this have happened?

On March 31 of this year, Governor Doug Ducey signed into law Senate Bill(SB)1516, effectively dismantling Arizona’s strong clean election laws and lifting most restrictions on how “dark money” can manipulate our lives. Thanks to SB1516, so-called non-profit “social welfare” groups—think tanks, faith groups, business groups, legal groups—can now spend more lavishly, anonymously, and unaccountably. It’s been dubbed, “Citizens United on steroids.” And unlike the dwindling waters out of Lake Mead, a gush of “dark money” is about to flood our state. Gov. Ducey lauded the bill as a way to increase free speech, which in light of Citizens United can only be interpreted as: “Money talks, folks.” But why would Governor Ducey risk his career like this?

You need only google “Doug Ducey/Dark Money” to learn that our governor is a long-time admirer and protégé of David and Charles Koch, the two ultra-right, ultra-rich industrialists who have created a national network of non-profits that make anonymous donations to right-wing causes and candidates. In the name of free market enterprise, these two libertarians—raised by a founder of The John Birch Society—have tried to eliminate taxes, public schools, environmental protection, and basically any government activity that might interfere with the making of money (though their wealth is listed at $44.5 billion EACH). In her book, “Dark Money” Jane Mayer, award-winning staff writer for The New Yorker, refers to their vast network of influence as the “Kochtopus.” And make no mistake, they have their tentacles in Governor Doug Ducey.

In 2010 Koch affiliated non-profits poured “dark money” into Ducey’s campaign for State Treasurer. In 2012, when Ducey was the chair of the committee to defeat Prop 204, the 1 Cent Sales Tax to properly fund education, the Koch brothers essentially funded that effort with “dark money.” So even though most Arizonans wanted to see Arizona rise from the bottom of per pupil spending nationally, an onslaught of deceptive ads killed the tax. Ducey’s co-chairs on the committee, Kirk Adams and Sean Noble, had both been political operatives in the Koch network. Adams, who also funneled “dark money” to support the AZ Corporation Commission attack on solar businesses and customers, currently serves as the governor’s Chief of Staff. Noble continues to be Ducey’s confidant and lead organizer for Independent expenditures.

In 2014, when Ducey was running for governor in the Republican primary, the Koch network of “social welfare” non-profits donated millions to defeat his challengers.   In the General election, groups like American Encore (Sean Noble’s group formerly known as the Center to Protect Patient Rights), Arizona Free Enterprise Fund, Americans for Responsible Leadership (Kirk Adams), 60 Plus Associates, Legacy Foundation Action Fund(out of Iowa), Veterans for a Strong America (out of South Dakota), Prosper Inc., and others gave $4 million dollars (8mil?) of “dark money” to Ducey’s victory. The governor has rewarded the Koch brothers. In 2016 for the first time a $5 million dollar allocation was put in anonymously (no one will claim it) for the Koch sponsored Freedom Schools at U of A and ASU. So who do you think our governor is beholden to: the people of Arizona or the Brothers K?

Fellow Arizonans, whatever your party affiliation, we’re better than this.. Let’s take our state back.