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Dark money group leads last-minute effort to speed up campaign finance changes

Arizona is already poised to relax rules regarding so-called “dark money” groups starting next year, but a last-minute amendment proposed on the Senate floor could make the changes go into effect in less than a month.

The proposal to accelerate the dark money regulation changes came late Thursday, as an amendment to HB 2296, and originated with the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a dark money group that spent about $1.7 million during the 2014 election cycle.

The amendment directly borrows language regarding the requirements for a 501c(4) organization to register as a political committee from SB1516, which was passed and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year.

Signature effort aims to derail solar ballot measure

The California-based solar panel company, SolarCity, has committed to spending at least $3 million to put a measure on Arizona’s November ballot that would require paying retail rates for rooftop solar net metering, and prevent new fees or demand charges the solar industry claims are prohibitive. But millions more are flooding into a signature gathering sleight-of-hand that aims to prevent the measure from ever making it to the ballot.

2014 dark money spending on lawmakers topped $900K

Arizona lawmakers considering a bill that would reduce regulation on groups that spend money in elections without disclosing the source benefitted by more than $900,000 during the 2014 election cycle, in what’s dubbed “dark money” spending.

In the Arizona House of Representatives, roughly $417,000 was spent by dark money groups to help elect 29 of the body’s 60 members. In the Arizona Senate, dark money groups spent $495,000 to help elect 18 of the body’s 30 members.

Familiar names top campaign contributions from 2015

Of the roughly $7.4 million in individual contributions made to Arizona politics in 2015, about ten percent came from 10 individuals or households.

Many of those top political contributors have funded political campaigns for years, giving large sums in previous cycles. Longtime contributors like Jim Pederson, Bill and Alice Roe, Jerry and Marilyn Hayden, and Jim and Vicki Click again made the list of the largest political contributions.

Money going toward Democrats or Democratic efforts were more than double that for Republicans in 2015, among those top individual political contributors.

Marijuana initiative tops campaign fundraising in 2015

About $9.7 million poured into state-level political campaigns in 2015, but a ballot measure aimed at legalizing marijuana use for adults accounted for almost $1.1 million of that figure, outraising every other campaign committee during the non-election year.

Almost half of the contributions going to the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol — roughly $414,000 — came from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, a nationally-focused marijuana law reform organization. Several local medical marijuana dispensaries account for another large portion of the campaign’s funds. Another committee called Arizonans for Responsible Legalization, which also helped push the measure in mid-2015, raised about $183,000, and transferred a portion to the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, bringing the total contributions going toward the measure to nearly $1.2 million.

The pro-pot warchest amassed by the initiative’s backers signals what will likely be a highly publicized issue as the November election nears.

Arizona school data shows uneven distribution of ethnic groups

PHOENIX — Two decades after Arizona helped pioneer the charter school movement, enrollment data show the schools don’t match the school age demographics of the state and, in many cases, their neighborhoods. White – and especially Asian – students attend charter schools at a higher rate than Hispanics, who now make up the the greatest portion of Arizona’s school age population.

Hispanic students account for 44 percent of all students in Arizona, but they make up just 36 percent of charter school students. White students, who make up 40 percent of the school age population, account for 48 percent of all charter students.

While there are exceptions, when charter schools are compared to their neighborhoods and to other nearby schools, data shows that they are more likely to be whiter than the surrounding area, while district schools tend to over-represent Hispanic students.

Supreme Court scrutinizes Republican challenge to Arizona legislative map

WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court justices today weighed a challenge to Arizona’s legislative districts, which claims the maps systematically deprived Republican, non-minority voters of one person, one vote protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The case, Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, is based on the fact that almost all of Arizona’s Republican-leaning districts are overpopulated, and almost all of the state’s Democratic-leaning districts are underpopulated.

A group of 10 Republican voters brought the challenge, claiming these disparities show an intentional attempt to boost Democrats in the state legislature.

U.S. Supreme Court to weigh Arizona voter dilution case

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over whether Arizona’s redistricting commission illegally diluted the voting power of nearly two-million Arizonans – specifically Republicans and non-minority voters – when the commission redrew the state’s legislative districts in 2011.

The lawsuit is based on the fact that the state’s Republican-leaning legislative districts are overpopulated, while Democratic-leaning and minority-heavy districts are underpopulated.

The court could rule that the current maps violate the one person, one vote equal protection clause of The U.S. Constitution. The appellants want the commission to redraw the maps, which would tilt the state legislature further in favor of Republicans. The Arizona House of Representatives has 36 Republicans and 24 Democrats, and the Senate is composed of 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

Attorney General: Corporation Commission chair broke conflict of interest laws, must be removed from office

PHOENIX — Susan Bitter Smith, the chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, broke the state’s conflict of interest laws by working as a lobbyist for companies the commission regulates, an Attorney General’s investigation has found.

The state’s top law enforcement office today filed a special action with the Arizona Supreme Court to have Bitter Smith removed from office.

Lobbying records only disclose recipient for $1 out of every $8 spent

PHOENIX — Less than 14 percent of the roughly $333,000 spent to lobby Arizona lawmakers in the first half of 2015 identified who the money was spent on, continuing a trend of scant disclosure going back years.

Since 2010, the portion of lobbying records that include beneficiaries has averaged about 12.5 percent. This is according to data maintained by the Secretary of State’s office and includes lobbying records for the first half of each year, which typically includes Arizona’s annual legislative session.

For 2015, lobbying records include a beneficiary for $1 out of every $8 spent, an analysis of the Secretary of State’s lobbying database by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting shows.

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