Former attorney general launches Election Reform Initiatives - Open Primaries Arizona
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Posted by Kellie Ryan on January 22, 2016 at 5:22 PM

Former attorney general launches Election Reform Initiatives

This article was written by Bob Christie for the Associated Press.

PHOENIX (AP) - A former Arizona attorney general and a former Phoenix mayor are launching a campaign to bring elections reform to voters through a pair of ballot measures.

The Open and Honest Elections Coalition is sponsoring a measure to increase disclosure requirements for groups contributing more than $10,000 to a political campaign and a second measure to put all Arizona candidates on a single primary ballot.

Former Attorney General Terry Goddard and former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson are sponsoring the bi-partisan initiatives in conjunction with HighGround Inc., a political consulting and lobbying firm. The coalition’s goals are to limit the influence of dark money in Arizona elections and make it easier for Independents to get on the ballot.

“Very small, very partisan primaries and a siege of dark money have made a profound difference in Arizona politics, a difference that we seek to change today,” Goddard said Thursday during a Phoenix press conference announcing the campaign.

The coalition will need to collect nearly 226,000 valid signatures for each initiative in order to change the state Constitution and get on the ballot for the November elections.

The coalition has already received $1 million from an open primaries advocacy organization to start the campaign, but plans to raise $13 million over the course of the election cycle.

The Open and Honest Disclosure initiative would require groups who spend money to influence political campaigns to disclose the original source of donations made in excess of $10,000.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan’s spokesman said that while there has been a lot of anonymous political spending in the last couple of election cycles, it is hard to give an accurate figure. An Arizona Republic analysis found outside spending totaled more than $27 million during the last election cycle.

Kory Langhofer, a Phoenix election law attorney who has represented dark money groups and brought campaign finance challenges against them, said the proposal’s backers face major challenges collecting enough signatures to get on the ballot, let alone passing.

For instance, the initiative would cover federal elections, and courts have said states can’t regulate federal election spending, Langhofer said. He also said its ban on certain kinds of political speech is likely unconstitutional.

“A lawyer could spend two hours with this initiative and come up with 10 legal theories they could base the challenge on,” Langhofer said.

The Open and Honest Elections initiative would place all candidates on a single primary ballot for state elections. The top two candidates would go on to campaign in the general election.

That initiative would most likely lower signature requirements for Independents candidates making it easier for them to get on the ballot.

Arizona Independent voters are the state’s largest voting bloc with more than 1.2 million people making up more than 37 percent of all registered voters in the state.

Johnson sponsored a similar top-two style open primary measure in 2012 that failed two-to-one. One of the changes in latest measure would allow local elections authorities to decide if a candidate’s party affiliation would appear on the ballot, Johnson said.

The Arizona Republican Party opposed Johnson’s 2012 measure and now opposes the Open and Honest Elections initiative, said Tim Sifert, Arizona Republican Party spokesman.

“It would remove the role that political parties have traditionally played in identifying good candidates and getting their message across to voters,” he said.