- Associated Press - Thursday, May 14, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona’s Citizen’s Clean Elections Commission voted unanimously Thursday to advance new rules that require more transparency from “dark money” groups that have flooded political campaigns with vast sums of money around the country over the last five years.

The 4-0 vote opens a 60-day public comment period on the rule requiring outside groups to file reports if they spend more than $500 to advocate for or against a candidate or voter initiative. The reports would disclose spending and donors.

The proposal drew a harsh critique from Secretary of State Michele Reagan, who said the commission’s plan usurps her authority as the state’s top elections officer. Reagan and her elections director did not attend the hearing.

“With the new regulatory authority the Commission seeks to bestow upon itself, the Commission appears also determined to seize the role of the Legislature and create its own law,” said Reagan.

Commission Executive Director Tom Collins has said the rule simply changes existing guidelines to clarify that reporting is required. He also lashed out at comments that Reagan’s elections director made earlier in the week that the secretary of state should consider suing the commission over ongoing disputes about its authority to oversee outside spending and candidates that don’t take public funding.

“That was a first to have the Secretary of State’s elections director announce that the secretary has now decided to weigh into these jurisdictional issues that we’ve been addressing for the last couple of years,” Collins said.

Reagan’s spokesman, Matt Roberts, said she is not now planning to sue but might in the future.

“Everything is on the table but we’re certainly not pursuing that right now,” Roberts said. “We’re just having right now a disagreement between our two organizations about what our statutory role is. We want to work with the Clean Elections Commission going forward to alleviate our concerns.”

Spending by outside groups that don’t have to disclose their donors or expenditures has soared in Arizona and nationally since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the government can’t restrict independent spending on elections. But the court also ruled that states can require disclosure, and the Clean Elections Commission has been trying to boost reporting requirements for outside groups.

Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature believe the commission, created by voters in 1998, doesn’t have authority to take such action. But the commission, made up of two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent, has consistently voted to exert its authority over the issues.

Reagan said the Legislature expressly rejected the type of reporting requirements Collins is proposing, but he disagreed.

Commission chairman Thomas Koester, an independent, said he expects the proposed rules to be substantially changed before the panel considers formal adoption.

“I’m pretty sure everything’s going to be revised once we get it back from public comment,” he said.

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