One of the most important things going on in Arizona politics right now is something you may not even know about. Arizona’s Citizens Clean Election Commission (CCEC) is working hard to change state election laws by proposing new rules that would sweep countless businesses under its jurisdiction in unprecedented ways. The business community has already been vocal in its opposition, and yesterday I testified at the CCEC’s open meeting on this issue. But it’s not over yet, and we believe it’s time for the business community to speak up even louder.
Earlier this month, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, along with Greater Phoenix Leadership, Arizona Small Business Association, Arizona Association of Realtors, Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, Arizona Chapter Associated General Contractors, Arizona Tax Research Association, Arizona Business Coalition, and Valley Partnership submitted a letter to the CCEC in opposition to its proposed rules. In that letter, we voiced concern over both the substance of the proposed rules as well as the process for adopting them—one that would have allowed the CCEC to publish a draft version of the rules but adopt a wholly different version later without explanation or opportunity for public comment.
As it turns out, our concerns were justified. At the CCEC’s public meeting yesterday, the Commissioners seemed prepared to adopt changes to the proposed rules submitted by a former commissioner without circulating those changes to the public. Fortunately, the Secretary of State’s office, the business community, and others turned out to voice their opposition, and the Commissioners voted to circulate the proposed changes and give the public another 28 days to comment.
The new proposal, which is now under consideration for adoption by the Commission, appears to presume that any organization that spends or raises $500 in a calendar year is organized for the primary purpose of influencing an election, and it puts the onus on these organizations to prove that they haven’t violated any rules. It is a significant overreach by government to force honest and long-standing Arizona business owners to appear before a government agency to justify the primary purpose of their businesses in order to have a voice in the electoral process.
Not only do the proposed rules vastly expand the Commission’s jurisdiction, but they do so in a way that is unnecessary. This is certainly not an area suffering from a lack of regulation, as it is already heavily regulated by the Secretary of State’s office. But the CCEC’s proposed rules nevertheless vest it with authority to double-regulate businesses and political groups that are already subject to comprehensive regulation by the Secretary of State by allowing the Commission to employ a fuzzy formula to determine whether a political group (or perhaps just a business choosing to support a candidate for office) is a “political committee.” That designation would require it to comply with the CCEC’s own burdensome reporting requirements and chilling scrutiny—in addition to the Secretary of State’s applicable regulations—even if the group in question didn’t give a cent to a “clean” candidate.
Businesses in Arizona shouldn’t have to worry about duplicative and conflicting regulations from multiple branches of government before they can express support for a political candidate. It is odd that the Commission would try to expand its authority now, in light of the series of high profile cases at the Arizona and United States Supreme Courts that have come down on the other side. Additional litigation, which seems likely to be the result if the Commission’s proposed rules are adopted, is in no one’s interest. Rather than working to expand its jurisdiction and implement new rules that make it more difficult for Arizonans to participate in constitutionally-protected speech, the CCEC should focus on its existing role and let the Secretary of State’s office do its job.
The Commission says it wants input from the public on its latest version of the rules. The business community must answer that call. The Arizona Chamber plans to submit additional written comments, and we will be at the CCEC’s next meeting on August 20 to continue to stand firm. I hope you will join us. Arizonans cannot permit the Commission to enlarge its power at everyone else’s expense.