Will ‘dark money’ contributions stay?

PHOENIX – A voter advocacy group, a union and Democrat lawmakers are asking a judge to void a new Arizona law expanding the ability of some groups to make anonymous “dark money’’ contributions to political campaigns.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court charges the Republican-controlled Legislature acted illegally earlier this year in exempting some organizations from laws which require them to register before they can spend money to influence who is elected. More to the point, it also allows them to avoid disclosing to voters who provided that cash in the first place.

But attorney Jim Barton said there are other legal flaws in the measure.

One, he said, is that the exemption lawmakers provided to certain nonprofit organizations applies only to those which also are registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission. But Barton said the legislation denies the same privilege to unions which, while organized as nonprofits, do not register with the commission.

Potentially the most sweeping, Barton said lawmakers violated a constitutional provision that requires the legislature to have laws which tell the public about all of the contributions to and expenditures of campaign committees and candidates for public office.

He said SB 1516 allows nonprofits and similar entities to make unlimited contributions to political parties. Then the parties can spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of their nominees.

“Since the reporting of these particular contributions are not required, then built-in disclosure safeguards (required by the Arizona Constitution) are broken,’’ Barton wrote.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, which enforces the campaign finance laws, said the lawsuit is being studied.

The new law, pushed through largely along party line votes, was a major overhaul of campaign finance laws.

It allows individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money to help raise funds for candidates they support without having to disclose it to the public.

Another provision scraps the $100 cap on what people can spend in tickets, food and liquor for fundraisers for candidates without having to disclose the source of those dollars.