Arizona Clean Elections Rule Changes

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Hear from both sides of the issue on changes made to rules for the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, including one change that critics say would allow anyone donating more than $500 to political candidates to be investigated. Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Tom Collins, executive director of the Clean Elections Commission, will discuss the rule changes.

TED SIMONS: A proposed change to Arizona election law regarding the disclosure of campaign spending and fund-raising by businesses has the chamber of commerce and the state's Clean Elections Commission on opposite sides. Here now to debate the issue, Glenn Hamer, President and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. Good to have you both here, thanks so much for joining us.

TOM COLLINS: Thanks for having us.

TED SIMONS: Let's define terms here. What are these proposed changes all about?

GLENN HAMMER: I'm sure the executive director will explain it in a little more detail. But we like things the way they are and this is why, Ted. This is a heavily regulated area. And the Secretary of State right now, she is the chief elections officer of the state. We believe that the jurisdiction properly rests within the Secretary of State's office. A recent "Arizona Republic" editorial said it best: There's only room for one campaign overseer in this state. That's our position. We don't want to see duplicative regulations that could kill constitutionally protected free speech.

TED SIMONS: Okay. You're more into a general overview here of maybe perhaps overreach or the duplicative nature of regulations. Businesses spend a certain amount of money, a certain amount of time?

TOM COLLINS: There are kind of two different things going on. On the one hand, what does the Clean Elections Commission do. From the commission's perspective and what we said and the statute and the courts have said, the voters who passed the Clean Elections Act gave the commission a certain set of powers. It's true, there are powers that overlap with the Secretary of State's office. That's a policy issue and it's also a legal issue. It's a power issue and also a legal issue. The rule proposal the Commission has been working on this summer and getting comments from the Chamber of Commerce and others throughout the process, is about -- within that regime, what is the way in which you analyze who has to file reports. In other words, the statutes set up a rule that says, look, if you're an entity with a primary purpose, for the primary purpose of influencing elections in this state; and you spend a certain amount of money, then you're a political committee, and they have to file certain reports including about contributors. The question in front of the Commission right now has been, you know, those terms all are out there. But in the final analysis, what is the decision tree to say, okay, how do I identify what that purpose is, and how do I make that decision.

TED SIMONS: Again, the idea of spending a certain amount of time -- you're a business, spending $500 a year or within 60 days of the vote. Should you not be open to more scrutiny?

GLENN HAMMER: Ted, I don't have $500 in my wallet, but that's not a lot of money in terms of the campaign. I do want to thank executive director Collins. He put out a memo, that might not be the right term, in response to the comments that the Arizona Chamber and about 20 other businesses groups including GPL, and we welcome Neil Giuliano back to the Valley, Phoenix Chamber, a number of leading trade associations filed. Our feeling is that particularly with what was originally on the table, it was a very low threshold, we were very concerned about the standard of evidence. Basically there would be a presumption of guilt, almost the French legal system, if only $500 was expended. I will say the executive director's memo, there were suggested changes. We feel that it's very important that as all these different comments are considered, that we have another opportunity to consider any sort of concrete proposal.

TOM COLLINS: If I may, I think that's exactly what the commission actually wants. One of the things the commissioners said at the meeting, when we first circulated the proposal that Glenn is talking about, is look, this might not be the right threshold. The metric we used to set up the draft is brought to you by a former Commissioner who wrote the act itself. It was the metric that was within the statute. Whether or not that's the metric for kicking out all of the disclosure obligations, that's the question. The Commission quite rightly wanted feedback on that. And there are commissionsers in that meeting who made clear that the broader issues of how you deal with the policy and legal problems of having a commission that has a role the voters granted it, and at the same time the Secretary of State there says that's something also the commission is receptive too. There's a lot of discussion happening. The nice thing about the commission process, is that rather than having a stakeholder process that might happen in a room where people get together and hash out the differences, and present to the commission this is the solution. This is a working commission. That actually happens in real time in the commission meetings.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned the duplicative nature of the regulations and the requirements. Maybe LLCs wouldn't have to file multiple reports. Is that correct or incorrect?

GLENN HAMMER: Our view is that if the proposed changes were to go forward, we would be required to report certain things potentially under both the Secretary of State and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. You know, again, our feeling is that this is not a great area to have two sheriffs in town. And the other thing I'd bring up, and again, I want to commend executive director Collins for, I know he's really weighing the different comments that are before him -- is the primary purpose issue. For a lot of these groups I think what set us off, we see something with $500 and primary -- and there's an assumption that our primary purpose in election nearing? I think that's nuts. We're a baby organization, Ted, only around 40 or so years. The Phoenix chamber has been around before Arizona was literally a state. And neither of us under any definition, could someone reasonably say our primary purpose is to be basically a political action committee.

TED SIMONS: The conflict of justifying a business just to have a voice in the electoral process, talk to us about that.

TOM COLLINS: That's a really important concept to talk about. The law in this area has for 40 years recognized that you can have folks who are going to be political at this entities, that are going to have to report certain things. Whether or not the committee settles on this rule, a different rule, if they modify it, those things are all for the Commission to decide. The legal framework for having political committees in existence has been in existence for a long time. What the courts have said is basically you look at what the major purpose in our statute, we put it as a primary turn of that operations. I think the commissioners wanted and expected feedback, and we received that from the Chamber this month and we've been working on that. The idea that a business might spend money on the elections is outside of dispute. Frankly, whether it's Discount Tires or Circle K or whatever, I don't think anyone thinks we want to end up with a rule requiring disclosure of donors. Those groups don't have donors. They are defending their own money. The issue is and always has been, when you have an organization set up to take money from group X, and spend money on candidate or issue Y, you know, what is the next affair and how do you get that reported out. How do you find that correct answer.

TED SIMONS: How do you get that reported? How do you get that correct answer?

GLENN HAMMER: Well, our approach, Ted, all we could do is respond to what's in front of us. So those are questions that the commission may consider-- our deep concern was the original proposal, the original idea on the table would have certainly captured us, other long-standing trade associations. We believe this is a constitutionally protected area. We believe we responsibly use this area for the greater good of a community. People know where to find us. When we engage in this area, pretty much everyone in town has my cell phone and my email. When I do something they don't like, I get a lot of emails with capital letters and exclamation points. We want to be able to protect and the in to participate in the election process in a vigorous way.

TED SIMONS: About 30 seconds left, please. Does he have a point there? And can that point find reality?

TOM COLLINS: I don't think there's any dispute that corporations can spend money in elections. That's a settled legal principle. The question is, when the corporations' purpose is not truly to do business, but it is in fact to engage in political activity, there's a First Amendment balance. You can't falsely shout fire in a crowded theater. There's always a balance. That's why we wanted Clean Elections in the first place.

TED SIMONS: Gentlemen, good to have you both here, thanks for joining us. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

Glenn Hamer : President and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tom Collins: Executive Director of the Clean Elections Commission

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