PHOENIX - Tucked in a 44-page bill that is among hundreds of laws that will take effect on Wednesday is a small sentence with big implications — especially for corporations and labor groups that seek a bigger impact on Arizona’s elections.
The provision resolved a question following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that lifted a decades-old ban against direct spending by corporations and labor groups for or against candidates: Can they contribute to independent expenditure groups, which are allowed to engage in electioneering so long as they don’t coordinate their activities with candidates?
Last year, the answer was, well, conflicting.
Actually, it became a point of contention between the Goldwater Institute and the Attorney General’s Office, which said under state laws at the time, corporate contributions to independent expenditure committees were not allowed.
But given that the prohibition was vulnerable to a constitutional challenge in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Citizens United and the possibility of clarifying law from the Legislature, the AG’s Office said it would exercise prosecutorial discretion and not go after corporations and labor groups that make such contributions.
Seeking to provide a definitive guide, legislators approved in the last session HB2304, an omnibus proposal that dealt with election law and explicitly stated that corporations and labor groups may contribute to independent expenditure groups.
The measure received overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate.
The provision is important because, while corporations are free to spend directly for or against a candidate, that doesn’t mean they would want to. There are inherent dangers to being perceived as overtly political. Big or small, businesses risk alienating customers — or their shareholders — if they engage in electioneering.
Contributing to a carefully selected independent expenditure allows businesses and labor groups to go to bat for candidates sympathetic to their causes at some remove, although independent groups are still under strict requirement to disclose their donors.
Actually, corporations and labor groups may get their chance to test the new law sooner than expected.
The recall election targeting Senate President Russell Pearce is set for November 8, and could provide a preview before next year’s primary and general elections of how Citizens United has altered Arizona’s election landscape.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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