- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey - one of the state’s largest benefactors of anonymous political spending in the 2014 election - signed a massive campaign finance overhaul Thursday that significantly expands the influence of dark money in Arizona elections.

The proposal backed by Secretary of State Michele Reagan was touted as a housecleaning measure despite increasing the amount dark money groups can spend on elections without revealing their donors.

Buried in the more than 50-page rewrite are provisions allowing politicians to give as much as $6,250 in campaign contributions to each other and letting political donors spend unlimited amounts on food and beverages to throw extravagant fundraisers without having to disclose a single dollar.

But the provision that is likely to have the largest impact cedes regulation of dark money and other nonprofit groups to the Internal Revenue Service, essentially doubling the amount dark money groups can spend on ballot measures and allowing nonprofits to spend more money influencing elections without having to reveal donors.

Ducey benefited from millions of dollars in anonymous political spending used for advertising that attacked fellow candidates and supported his own campaign during the 2014 gubernatorial race. Among the top groups that contributed to his effort to win the election were American Encore, the 60 Plus Association and Conservative Leadership for Arizona.

Ducey says the re-write simplifies regulations and provides more opportunity for average citizens to get involved in politics. “When it comes to free speech and participation in the democratic process, our laws should reflect the goal of making it easier for more citizens to engage. That’s what this reform package does,” Ducey said.

Democratic lawmakers railed against the bill as it passed through both legislative chambers piling on amendments - which never passed - to address issues that Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, said effectively legalize corruption in Arizona.

“On any given day an Arizona resident will not know who is trying to influence lawmakers because those people with deep pockets will have many more tools at their disposal to corrupt our electoral process,” Clark said Thursday.

State Elections Director Eric Spencer said he has spent much of the last year writing the bill with input from a variety of interested parties. The proposal would make it easier for candidates to run for office, increase the frequency of campaign finance reports and add key enforcement tools, he said.

He believes changes in the law to keep donors secret are important for the democratic process, Spencer said.

“I would define dark money as completely anonymous political speech,” he said earlier this month. “It’s not ‘dark’ because the identity of the speaker is being disclosed.”

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