Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan discusses the latest issues regarding her office.
TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," Arizona secretary of state Michelle Reagan will join us in studio. And we'll hear from both sides on the concept of a definable and enforceable living wage. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon".
VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The U.S. supreme court today ruled in favor of a Gilbert church in a legal battle with the city over temporary roadside signs. It was a unanimous decision. Attorneys for the good news Presbyterian church claimed that Gilbert treated the church's service announcements and other temporary signs differently than political signs, which are allowed to be larger in size and stay longer in place. The high court ruled that Gilbert's sign ordinance was indeed unconstitutional. The national league of cities though, says that the decision quote wreaks havoc on the ability of local governments to implement sign code regulations.
And Glendale filed a motion to allow the city to skip a quarterly payment to the Arizona coyotes. It's part of Glendale's efforts to end an agreement with the hockey team. The city wants to skip a $3.75 million payment that's due July 1st or put the money in an escrow account. The payment is part of the $15 million the city agreed to pay the coyotes annually in an arena management and lease agreement.
Arizona secretary of state Michelle Reagan has been involved in a disagreement with the clean elections commission over jurisdiction of enforcement of campaign law violations for certain types of candidates. Here now to talk about that and more is Arizona secretary of state Michelle Reagan. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
MICHELLE REAGAN: Thank you so much for having me back.
TED SIMONS: Before we get into all of that other stuff, your impressions of the job. Is it what you expected? Surprises, challenges?
MICHELLE REAGAN: It's a dream job. Everything I expected and then some. It is a very, very big agency, bigger than I think most people realize, about a $20 million agency, 160 employees, 11 locations around the state. So, I'm just loving every minute of it.
TED SIMONS: I know that you talked about improving and updating campaign finance laws. What needs improving? What needs updating?
MICHELLE REAGAN: Right when we -- before -- right before I was sworn in, we struck, dealt a blow with the ruling, and I don't want to get too far into the weeds. But a federal judge basically ruled our definition of political committee unconstitutional. That is pretty much everything. The elections division bases pretty much everything on. So, we had to go to the legislature. New legislature, new secretary of state, definition of political committee, null and void.
TED SIMONS: Yes.
MICHELLE REAGAN: We had to go to the legislature and ask them to write a new one. So, we basically -- we were, you know, right in the thick of it with them. Biggest new thing with campaign finance laws, new definition of political committee which has yet to take effect because new laws haven't taken effect yet.
TED SIMONS: Indeed. Without getting too deep in the weeds, attorney general dropped his appeal on this ruling from the ninth circuit court of appeals regarding the original definition. I know the new law is coming into effect. By dropping the appeal, what does that mean? If the court case continues, you could still get a new definition of a committee, couldn't you?
MICHELLE REAGAN: Yeah, I mean, that's the thing. What was just so important was that we got to the legislature. We were able to find an excellent sponsor to just push it through the way that it seemed that the federal judge was going to agree was constitutional. And, again, you know when you are working with the legislature, you want to make sure that things aren't hung on to the bill and added to it that are going to get hung up into the court system. We were able to get a clean bill out of there. And something that the GALICINI lawyer seemed to like, too. So, we were a little, again, attorney general, new administration as well, so we're all kind of learning the ropes here. And we would like their agreement that this is a good definition of political committee, but I think what's most important is the legislature liked this, the governor signed it, and the judges seem to be happy with us that it is constitutional.
TED SIMONS: And when we talked earlier about improving and updating, modernizing campaign finance laws, does dark money need to be addressed.
MICHELLE REAGAN: I think the big issue that needs to be addresses is transparency. This is something as soon as I was sworn in and I took a look at what the secretary of state does and what the Secretary of State can do, I got really excited because I thought, wow, I actually get to do something on the issue of transparency. And this is where I was able to start working right away where I can do something right now on the issue where I couldn't do something in the legislature. You know, the legislature, you have got to try to pass a bill and get something signed. Same thing with Congress or, you know, quite frankly a lot of the dark money problems are going to have to be solved with the IRS or federal government. But as Secretary of State, I can work on the problem right now with transparency. And we're working with the clean elections commission on programs, really big project called the follow the money project. That is going to be rolling out here pretty soon. We want it in place before the 2016 election. These kind of things aren't picking up a lot of media yet because they're not completed, but we're working on them right now. Where you are going to able to pull up a candidate's name and see exactly who has donated to them. People are going to be able to click and it is all going to be laid out for them. Government collects a massive amount of information on people. And I was able to see that as soon as I was sworn in and started looking at our campaign finance division, elections division. I thought, wow, we already collect huge amounts of information. Whether that is right or wrong, already state law though what we already collect. What we do is a terrible job of laying it out for people where they can easily digest it and see it.
TED SIMONS: I was going to ask, though, it is one thick to say that, you know, that the betterment of -- corporation wants this -- I love puppies candidate wants this candidate -- who is behind those group? Can the transparency go deep enough to find out that, yeah, that's the person behind the I love puppies group?
MICHELLE REAGAN: I know every state is struggling with that kind of that Russian nesting doll problem, the shell game. I have not found one state that has been able to find that, that magic bullet. And I don't know -- and there are some states quite frankly that don't want to find it because, you know, it is up to those individual legislatures, even if they want to tackle the issue, but as secretary of state, there is things that I can do right now to solve transparency problems because even with the data that we already collect, we're not using it properly. And, so, again, I decided, I think quite wisely, to say I'm going to focus on the things that I can work on and actually have an impact on right now. And we're really pleased with the way some of the projects are going. We're going to be coming out with -- a number of different things that are going to be transferred online that make it more user-friendly not just for candidates, but for the public as well. All of this stuff that we're doing on paper. Really? It's 2015.
TED SIMONS: You mentioned working with clean elections and you have been concerned with the jurisdictional reach of clean elections especially when they fine a particular group $95,000 for last-minute ads against Scott Smith regarding his mayoral term. Right when he was leaving -- it was pretty transparent what was going on there, yet your concern with clean elections going after these guys. What's going on here?
MICHELLE REAGAN: Clean elections and the Secretary of State's office work together on a number of different projects. They are a player in the elections world, absolutely. Important that the Secretary of State's office is a player as well. Ever since statehood it has been pretty clear that there is certain government entities that are involved in campaign finance or campaign world. Secretary of State's office, attorney general's office and now we have the clean elections commission voters voted in. I respect that. But where does the jurisdictional boundaries begin and where do they ends? That's what is intervening in this lawsuit was really about. I don't believe that government gets two bites at the apple. What I mean, a crime may or may not have been committed. And that's for a judge to determine. But how many times and how many government entities can go after that same crime? That's the overall answer that we want -- you know, the overall question that we want answered. Is it the secretary of state's office or the clean elections commission.
TED SIMONS: Some are saying that the clean elections commission is the only agency out there going after these kinds of folks, this group in particular, that they went after it when no one else did.
MICHELLE REAGAN: That is a completely false narrative. This -- intervening in this case was not about protecting legacy fund, it was about asking a judge -- we intervene to ask the judge to answer a larger jurisdictional question that we believe needs to be answered going forward. This was a great opportunity to have that answered. But in this particular case, and at the 30-second sound byte on that, legacy found, secretary of state Ken Bennett at the time passed this on to Maricopa County elections who ruled no crime basically. An administrative law judge agreed with that. And then the complainant himself, mayor Scott Smith voluntarily withdrew his complaints and clean elections commission still went ahead. I respectfully would disagree that this is some crime needing to be solved.
TED SIMONS: Critics saying in this particular case you are siding with dark money, you say --
MICHELLE REAGAN: Absolutely not. I am asking a judge in this particular case to -- opportunity to intervene and to say who has jurisdiction over this stuff? What you never want to have is an instance where one government entity says to a group go right. And another says go left. Because what happens? The group doesn't end up having any clear direction. You can't have a system that does that. So, what we're asking the judge to say is basically who has jurisdiction? We think we know the answer of who that is. But we -- we don't know. And we want the judge to let everybody know so that there is a clear answer by next year's election.
TED SIMONS: Again, you are asking for the opinion and the ruling of a judge there. There is a state law that candidates have to be notified of last-minute ads. You have been quoted, your office has been quoted as saying that you think this is unconstitutional and that you are not going to enforce the law.
MICHELLE REAGAN: We definitely are going to enforce the laws that the legislature puts forward. Being a former legislator, nobody respects the role of the legislature more than I do, however, little problem with the article that was written about that. And we won't get into that tonight. But what I will say is that we also have a duty as our election director has a duty when he sees something and he is making determinations on complaints and on these particular complaints they were all dismissed for various reasons, most of them were for substantial compliance. They had substantially complied. So they were deemed, you know, hey, you have substantially complied. We will not pass this along to the attorney general's office if your notification was three hours' late. That was the case in many of these. He noticed something and brought it forward to the legal community as a footnote and said by the way, this is something that you may want to take a look at. And said, you know, hey, legal community, hey, election law community and legislature, you may want to next year consider changing this or taking it off the books because a judge in 2003 said that this is most likely unconstitutional. A big difference between bringing it forward, which is probably his duty to do as our elections director and saying this is probably unconstitutional and saying, you know, we're not going to enforce something. Certainly we're going to enforce the laws of Arizona.
TED SIMONS: The idea that you would not enforce something because you or your elections director considers this particular law unconstitutional, again, critics and it can be argued, it's not your job.
MICHELLE REAGAN: I don't believe it is my job to make law. I believe it's my job to follow the law. I believe it's our duty as the chief election officer of the state -- when they spot something in law they believe is unconstitutional, it is absolutely their --
TED SIMONS: Until the legal community takes action and a ruling is made, you still have to follow --
MICHELLE REAGAN: Yes, I think we would all agree on that. I don't want my election director or his staff to be afraid to say, hey, legislature, you should look at this to be afraid to come forward and if they see things that they don't think are right to have -- you are not going to enforce it. He's enforcing the law just fine when things are dismissed for other reasons.
TED SIMONS: A candidate must be notified of last-minute ads.
MICHELLE REAGAN: That's the law right now.
TED SIMONS: All right. Good to see you. Thanks for joining us.
MICHELLE REAGAN: Good to see you. A pleasure. Appreciate it.