Journalists’ Roundtable 07/15/2016

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Join us as three local journalists bring you up to date on the news of the week.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, the fight against a recent bill that eases restrictions on dark money in Arizona is over.

Ted Simons: And state auditors call for increased oversight on school voucher programs. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight. Jeremy Duda of The Arizona Capitol Times. Bob Christie of The Associated Press. And Mike Sunnucks of Phoenix Business journal.

Ted Simons: A campaign to refer Arizona's dark money bill to the November ballot is no more. Let's talk about this dark money bill, what it was all about, and what this initiative was all about.

Jeremy Duda: Well, the bill, Senate bill 1516, was a very wide ranging almost kind of omnibus bill sponsored by the secretary of state's office, they completely tore down and rewrote Arizona's campaign finance statutes and I would say about 95% of this was pretty noncontroversial but that last 5% was quite the sticking point, especially one provision that was viewed as very much decreasing the state's ability to enforce campaign finance laws against dark money groups, mostly the 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups that don't have to disclose their donors. There's not a lot of enforcement against them anyway, the state has very minimal ability to do so. If you spend more than half your money on campaigns, you're a committee, but this law said if you're a nonprofit as long as you have valid status with the IRS, no matter how much you spent basically, as long as the IRS recognizes you're a nonprofit, the state can't touch you.

Ted Simons: It was seen as removing state control over anonymous political campaign donations.

Bob Christie: That's what it was intended to do. It was intended to pull back the disclosure that these groups would have to give. They didn't have to do a lot of disclosure anyway, but the argument has always been that if someone spends to back a political initiative or to back a candidate in the Arizona and they're an outside group they should at least file with the secretary of state's office so the public can know who's spending the money. It's all about whose message is it? Is it some union from out of state? Who is it? So the voters could actually understand okay, that message is coming from here, I can analyze it a little bit better and they can understand it.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and so there was a citizens -- this was basically a drive among citizens to get enough signatures to get a we don't want this kind of business on the ballot. The drive's over. What happened?

Mike Sunnucks: Ken Clark, democratic state lawmaker was spearheading this and he announced they didn't have the money to pay petition gatherers to make the ballot and there's a bunch of other progressive causes out there. Marijuana legalization, raising the minimum wage, limiting hospital pay CEO, you just had prop 123 which folks on the left side of politics, you know, were supportive of so they were kind of tapped out and so to get stuff on the ballot you've got to pay people to be able to collect those signatures and collect enough and they just couldn't do it and, you know, things have changed in this state. We were the state of clean elections and we had all these good government things and those have all been dismantled by various bills and court regulation and we're going down a different path.

Jeremy Duda: And this very much illustrates how difficult it really is to get something on the ballot, via citizen referendum. The signature requirement is lower than citizen initiatives and stuff like that but you only have three months from after the end of the legislative session, they had to collect about 75,000 valid signatures, realistically close to 100. They collected 20,000. Ken Clark told me about 16 once they figured out the bad ones. They only got $30,000, maybe a little more. They had very few resources, just not nearly enough to get it done and we haven't seen an actual citizen referendum on the ballot since 1998.

Ted Simons: There's a reason for that.

Ted Simons: It got enough signatures a few years ago but the legislature repealed the law to keep that from happening.

Bob Christie: The point was Arizona voters have a unique position. If a legislature passes something and it creates enough of a furor, you can't have more than two cats in your house, you can go out and collect enough signatures and as soon as you get them, the law is on hold, it does not go into effect until the voters can vote on it. You don't see that back east. In the west we can do that. And that's happened just a couple of years with a big election bill and it pulled it back. This one just didn't get enough gumption. How do you explain what dark money is? Anonymous political spending?

Mike Sunnucks: That's a challenge. The media, inside baseball folks, political folks, especially on the left talk about the koch brothers. If you get out there with real people, it's hard to explain to them because it's essentially political money laundering and just moving pots of money around and how much you have to disclose and getting people that are engaged in a lot of other issues, age of social media and everything that goes on there it's been a challenge for the mark money foes to move these things forward.

Ted Simons: With that in mind obviously the legislature is not going to refer this to the ballot. Stop us before we legislate again. Will there be another effort down the road to try to get citizens to band together to stop this easing of dark money control?

Jeremy Duda: There will be. We saw a pretty serious effort earlier this year that fizzled out over some fights over funding that would have gone so much further than what this referendum would have done, required the disclosure of the sources, that imploded for some random reasons but I think there's no doubt we'll see more efforts down the road, it's become such a big issue in the post-citizens united world.

Mike Sunnucks: The backer said absolutely, I had three months, I couldn't get the big money people around the state to take this as a serious issue but we're not going away. Once people go through the next election cycle, through the primary coming up in August, and then the presidential season, and they start seeing who's running these ads and who are these groups and why can't I know? He's hoping that maybe some people will say this is bad for democracy.

Ted Simons: And Democrats, this is a good issue for Democrats to gin up their base. Whether they can get it on the ballot is another question.

Jeremy Duda: And in the end, the impact of this will probably be fairly minimal compared to the other dark money stuff. This would have partially removed the state's ability to enforce some of these groups but no one is doing that anyway, so the impact maybe not that big in the first place.

Ted Simons: There were some dark money groups fined, as well. Not much of a money. In the world of dark money, tens of thousands of dollars here and there doesn't seem to make much difference.

Bob Christie: It's a message the federal election commission fined several groups that had some connection with the koch brothers, they said they should have filed with the federal election commission that they were actually spending on political purposes, they didn't. And, of course, the groups have lawyers and the fcc has lawyers and five years down the road we get a fine. There's an Arizonian who has connected with those groups, Sean noble, who was at one point very active nationally, a real backer of some of these Republican leaning groups who pushed Republican issues across the country and he was tied with these so that's why we saw a lot in Arizona but whether this is really a slap on the hand, I don't know. I mean, it's a small amount of money, and it's six years down the road.

Ted Simons: One of them got $140,000 fine, the other $43,000. Is that punitive for the groups?

Mike Sunnucks: Some of the good government groups that want the fcc to crack down, this is at least a good step because that panel, which is made up of Republicans and Democrats, is often kind of frozen and there's not a lot of teeth to it, maybe they're hopeful that going forward, they'll go after other groups as well and folks in Arizona see the ties between Sean noble with Governor Ducey and his campaigns. Hopefully shines some light on these things.

Jeremy Duda: It's interesting. Sean noble and his group that gave the money to these three organizations, they didn't get any fines, there weren't that many allegations against them but it appears to be Sean noble who inadvertently caused this to happen. The groups, you don't have to disclose the money but the fcc said they violated rules saying if you explicitly take money that's already earmarked for campaign finances, that you have to say but in 2014, Sean noble gave an interview to a national review, a conservative publication, talking about the way they distributed this money around in 2010 to go after Democrats who voted for Obamacare, very successful endeavor, gave these groups this much money, we made a spreadsheet of who we were going to target. Fascinating article actually but this group in Washington read that and within a month or so filed off a big complaint.

Ted Simons: $133,000 article if you think about it.

Jeremy Duda: They get $25 million.

Mike Sunnucks: The amount of money in there and just shows, free speech rights that work against all this but these are wise guys moving money around on both sides, both parties, both camps do this, and it's very hard for the regulators to track this down without some type of tipoff like that.

Ted Simons: Speaking of moving money around, prop 123 money is now going out to school districts and the Arizona republic showed that a lot of teachers not getting nearly as much as they thought they would.

Bob Christie: So they distributed about $280 million to all the school districts throughout the state to pay for 1.1 students around the state, and a lot of folks thought this is all going to go into the classroom. Well, it didn't, because the schools have been shorted for years. I mean, I talked to a finance director in Flagstaff who said the state gives me $900,000 a year for capital improvements, right? I have to pay for all the school books, all the textbooks, all my computers and my software. My software for my computers cost me $2 million a year just for the licenses. And so yeah, they've been shorted, and the money that went to the school districts is not going to the teachers. They're trying to give two, three, 4% raises but it works out to $40 a month.

Ted Simons: Some of these districts, less than 20% of the money they're going to -- getting is going to the classrooms.

Jeremy Duda: Some of these teachers are getting 1% raises, not very enticing for people who haven't gotten a raise in years and years since the recession hit in 2008. And the governor's office, Governor Ducey was the chief backer of this, promoting all over the state and he said we always said the school boards, school districts, they get the discretion over how it's spent but this does look bad for them because that was by far the biggest selling point, all these ads, time our teachers got a raise, vote yes on 123. And for a lot of people it's not happening even for some of the folks where it is happening it's pretty paltry.

Mike Sunnucks: Some of the school administrators, superintendents have gotten some raises and some districts, teachers are getting $1,500 raises per year. If you take it down to the pay period it's like when you give the humane society, it's $5 a day so it looks bad. It's not what they promised. But the education lobby and some other allies are already crying poverty and this is probably setting the narrative for another ballot initiative to get more money.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, what does the public do next time they hear we need to spend more on education?

Bob Christie: If you're crafting the narrative you say well okay yeah, we gave $3.5 billion to schools over 10 years but we shorted them $10 billion over there last 10 years so this is step done. The governor has said this is step one.

Mike Sunnucks: We're still waiting for step two.

Ted Simons: The ink isn't even dry on step one, right?

Bob Christie: You don't know what step two is. The governor is working on ways to change the way the school funding formula works, the worst part of my world is trying to figure out school funding in the state budget. And anybody who deals with it will tell you the same thing. It's highly complex, are you rich, are you poor, how much money do you get from property taxes?

Mike Sunnucks: I think there's a political peril for the education folks to try poverty on this so quickly. That barely passed and this is a conservative state and there's plenty of folks in the legislature that noticed that, that result how close it was and for them to come out and immediately complain about this, there's folks in the state that are sympathetic to teachers but there's a lot of private sector workers out there working in lower paying service jobs that don't get these raises ever. Politically it may work with the elites and the media but not the electorate out there that was skeptical.

Jeremy Duda: This is just one year. It goes for 10 years, I mean I could certainly anticipate that based on all the blowback they're getting over the first year of money, they come back next year, maybe raises are a little higher on the agenda. Bob mentioned there's a lot of capital costs and schools have been getting shorted on this for years. They got shorted on it pretty badly last year, maybe you get some of that out of the way.

Ted Simons: But the impact if voters have to decide on whether it's an override or a state issue, does this come back to haunt them?

Jeremy Duda: It certainly could. Every year, all these school districts go back and say another bond, another override, there's a lot of voters who are going to be skeptical about that in the first place and say we just gave you $3.5 billion over the next decade. Why am I voting to increase my property taxes?

Bob Christie: The last time we had an election cycle, the vast majority of bonds and overrides passed around the state. That tells you that voters are very concerned, they understood gnat years of recession at the state level has hurt schools. And I think they probably understand that one thing can't fill that hole. We'll have to see, it doesn't look good to the school district to immediately write a check from every penny that they got to pay their teachers but they've also got air conditioners that are broken and school bus drivers.

Ted Simons: Secretaries.

Bob Christie: So it's got to be spread around.

Ted Simons: I want to move to this marijuana ballot measure because a lawsuit was filed on this regarding whether or not this was a misleading measure to voters. And we can talk about other measures that are targets of lawsuits, as well. The marijuana measure, what does it do and why is it being targeted?

Mike Sunnucks: There's a measure for November that would basically legalize marijuana for recreational use in Arizona. We would follow the lead of Colorado, Alaska, the groups have collected a lot of signatures. You've got opponents, you've got Maricopa county attorney bill Montgomery. [ technical difficulties ]

Jeremy Duda: And this seems primarily kind of like publicity and harassment. You have the 100 word descriptions and you have to describe everything an initiative does. That can be pretty difficult but you don't have to explain to what it's going to do to every single Arizonian in the state. Even the title of the initiative is misleading, regulate marijuana like alcohol. It's not being regulated like alcohol. That's getting beyond the point of this. This is going to be a good opportunity for them to air their grievances, point out every negative effect they think it's going to have but in terms of getting it off the ballot, there's a slim chance.

Bob Christie: And the point is if you strongly oppose an initiative and we'll talk about the other two initiatives that are being challenged now, the first thing you try to do is keep it off the ballot in the first place. We've seen efforts in other things where there's been accusations of pressure against signature gathering companies, don't take this contract. Once they do get the signatures, you try to challenge it right there before it gets on the ballot. That's what it is all about. That 100 word description which talks about how it's going to legalize marijuana, use the money for schools. It didn't go down in the weeds and say, and it's going to change dui laws because obviously, you can't arrest everybody who smoked a joint two days ago. It's going to change that. And their argument is it doesn't do that clear enough. I doubt that's likely but throw it up against the wall.

Mike Sunnucks: You'll see similar changes if it passes obviously like they did with medical marijuana. The opponents will do these things to harass the implementation.

Ted Simons: You mentioned a couple of other measures real quickly that were being challenged as well?

Bob Christie: The other two initiatives that made the ballot or had enough signatures filed, one would cap hospital pay at $450,000 for executives and that's pushed by a California union. There's a challenge against that. And then the second one is the minimum wage initiative, raising Arizona's minimum wage to $12 an hour. California's going up to 15 pretty soon. This is another union backed or Democrat liberal backed push to raise Arizona's minimum wage to $20,000 a year which seems not very much but that's what it would raise it to and, in fact, that's being challenged as well for the same thing because they're challenging the legitimacy of the petitions.

Ted Simons: These are basically pro forma type of attacks. Get it early.

Jeremy Duda: For some of them it's hard to say. There's so many regulations. That's what they're challenging, the minimum wage and the hospital pay. Hospital pay law says you have to have 15 lines for signatures on the page, they only had 12.

Bob Christie: A few years ago there was a Supreme Court decision that kept an initiative on the ballot, I believe it was the last marijuana initiative because the Supreme Court said it substantially complies with the law and then the legislature a couple of years ago changed it and said no strict compliance. Every period has to be in the right place, and now, the opponents can do that.

Mike Sunnucks: When you think about the people running these initiatives, they have to spend money on legal fees on all these things. That costs money. Big money and that's money they're not able to spend on television ads and mailers and stuff and so there's a concerted effort and a lot of these cases you have business interests, the folks on the right challenging these kind of progressive things like marijuana legalization or capping CEO pay for hospitals or raising the minimum wage. People that maybe have a little bit more money opposing these things going against the more progressive folks, and it's robbing some of their resources to defend these things in court.

Ted Simons: All right. Governor Ducey to no one's I think surprise has endorsed senator John McCain in the primary for United States senator. Does this hurt his standing among the right wing of the Republican -- he's a conservative, but Kelli Ward considers herself much more of a conservative than John McCain.

Jeremy Duda: A lot of those folks probably were a little wary of Ducey in the first place. You remember back to the 2014 election, obviously, he won very handily as well but the far right wing, the folks who are the most likely to be voting for Kelli Ward, they supported other candidates. They liked most of what he does but in the end, I don't think it's going to change too many people's opinion of him or McCain. Endorsements usually have very little impact. I think the most significant thing about this is we've seen Ducey give out very few endorsements in contested Republican primaries. The only other people he's endorsed, you know, this cycle are two county supervisors who I think have effectively no opposition, McCain does have a high-profile contested primary here.

Bob Christie: It's no doubt. The governor, it would look really bad for the governor if he didn't endorse John McCain. John McCain is an American senator. You go to any state in the United States and you ask a guy at the gas station who's John McCain and they all know. So he's a former presidential GOP nominee. For the head of the state party who's Doug Ducey to not endorse the sitting Republican senator would be a shock.

Mike Sunnucks: Especially after the last three Republican governors who preceded Ducey, put out an announcement that they had all endorsed him so Ducey followed. He's the sitting governor so you've got to give him his own press release.

It's interesting to see what the trump voters do with this. Do they care whether Ducey endorsed McCain or not? Do they show up at all in an August 30th primary featuring Kelli Ward? How do they vote in November if it's McCain against Ann Kirkpatrick? Do they vote for Trump and leave that McCain thing empty? There's still anger out there amongst a lot of conservatives towards McCain, he's always had that strife with folks in the Tea Party wing but it's interesting to see what the stuff with the Veterans Administration and just the continued problems there, if voters remember that and conversely all this stuff going on with turkey and France and terrorism and ISIS that has played in McCain's wheelhouse.

Ted Simons: I know you've been following the Kelli Ward campaign to a certain degree. It looks like she recycled an old Romney ad against McCain. What's that all about?

Jeremy Duda: It's an ad that Romney ran against McCain when they were running against each other for the Republican nomination, tying McCain to Hillary Clinton, then as now, the biggest boogie man for the Republicans and they agree on this, they agree on this, they had a clip of bill Clinton saying they're very close but at the end where it says hi, I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message, they put I'm Kelli Ward, the Romney folks send them a nasty message.

Ted Simons: Is the ward campaign sputtering a bit here?

Jeremy Duda: They're lacking in resources, they're not getting a lot of earned media. This might help them. Nobody saw that ad before the republic pointed out they stole this old Mitt Romney ad, now it's getting some national news.

Mike Sunnucks: This campaign is all about John McCain and whether there's enough Republicans in a primary to throw him out of there. That hasn't happened. It would be a big surprise. But at least she didn't run a George W. bush add against McCain like back in South Carolina.

Ted Simons: Not yet. Good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," a new poll commissioned by the border-land bureau at ASU's Cronkite School looks at how residents on both sides of the border feel about each other and a variety of immigration-related issues. That's Monday at 10:00 on "Arizona Horizon".

Ted Simons: Tuesday, we look at the economic impact of non-profits in Arizona. Wednesday, how Phoenix is now number 11 in the nation in a new report on tech talent. Thursday, hear about SRP's efforts to produce electricity out of forest biomass. And Friday, it's another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend. ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶

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Bob Christie, Jeremy Duda, Mike Sunnucks

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