- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Wednesday accelerating the effective date of a law that relaxes rules on anonymous political spending ahead of upcoming elections.

Ducey’s action moves the start date to June from November.

The new law could complicate an effort to repeal a recent campaign finance law that could go before voters in November. Opponents say they might now need to file two referendums to overturn language that appears in both laws.

The law borrows language from the campaign finance law Ducey signed in March. Specifically, it includes language that 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.

Dark money is generally defined as political groups that do not report their donors.

Democratic Rep. Ken Clark is leading the charge to repeal the campaign finance law that he says limits disclosure and increases the influence of money in Arizona politics. Now he’s considering filing a second referendum for the new law.

Clark said he will do whatever it takes to protect the public’s right to be involved in the political process.

“There’s a lot of anger among the public right now for the dark money stuff,” he said. “It’s a clear abdication of the secretary of state’s responsibility to oversee elections and she’s spearheading, and the governor’s used his muscle, to get it passed.”

The Stop Corruption Now committee has until early August to gather about 75,000 signatures needed to get on the November ballot.

Supporters of the new law, including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Secretary of State Michele Reagan, say it simplifies the state’s complex campaign finance code and promotes free speech.

Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona chamber, said the latest law will help prevent the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission from “needlessly investigating” organizations for spending money to influence elections.

The chamber is also opposing efforts to repeal the campaign finance law that they say provides a clear road map for political participation in the state.

“This is yet another attempt to chill speech in the political arena. If this initiative makes the ballot, voters should reject it,” said chamber CEO Glen Hamer in a statement on the bill.

Ducey also signed legislation Wednesday reinserting criminal penalties that were left out of the campaign finance law signed earlier this year.

The measure’s backers, including State Election Director Eric Spencer and Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, initially left out the provisions from the campaign finance rewrite, saying they would add them back next year, but Driggs reversed course after a public outcry and came back with an amendment that added back several criminal penalties.

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