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‘Privacy’ for political spenders as important as government transparency, say ‘dark money’ advocates

By: - October 17, 2018 3:58 pm

Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

In a wide-ranging 90-minute talk about the importance of anonymous spending in American politics, Goldwater Institute attorney Matt Miller and National Review Senior Writer David French discussed a recent wave of campaign finance disclosure laws and ordinances across the country.

“Privacy for the citizen is as vital as transparency from the government,” French said during a discussion about two Goldwater Institute lawsuits.

One of the lawsuits is focused on a change enacted by the city of Denver.

Last year, the Denver city council passed an ordinance that requires clubs, associations, corporations and any group that advocates for or against a ballot measure to disclose certain information if they raise and spend $500 or more.

If a group reaches that limit, it must disclose the name and address each person or entity that gave $50 or more.

Colorado has attracted the ire of right leaning groups before for similar measures in the past.

In 2008, a similar disclosure law required donors who gave more than $20 to a nonprofit that spent $200 or more on election advocacy was challenged by the libertarian Independence Institute.

The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the state law.

However, that isn’t stopping the Goldwater Institute.

Rulings in other courts, including the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, have Miller and others believing that the Colorado ruling could be overturned.

But Colorado isn’t the only place under Goldwater’s crosshairs.

Santa Fe is the subject of a Goldwater Institute lawsuit over an ordinance passed by the city that requires 501(c)(3) groups to disclose donors if they spend more than $250 in support or opposition of a ballot initiative.

“The governmental interest doesn’t exist in ballot measures as it does with donations to candidates,” Miller said during Tuesday’s talk. Miller and French also argued that donations to nonprofits are a form of political speech protected by the First Amendment.

Proponents of disclosure ordinances like the ones taking place in Colorado and New Mexico reject the Goldwater Institute’s position.

“The right to hide, the right to be anonymous — there is no such right in the Constitution,” former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told the Arizona Mirror.

It is true that there is no explicit right to privacy within the U.S. Constitution, but many U.S. Supreme Court rulings have created such safeguards for certain issues related to a person’s right to privacy.

The court has yet to make a ruling on donor privacy, but in the 2010 Citizens United ruling that paved the way for nonprofit 501(c)(4) corporations to directly spend on elections, eight of the nine justices said disclosure of political spending is essential, as it brings “transparency that enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.