An explosion of “dark money” spending dominated Arizona’s 2014 election cycle, when groups that don’t disclose their donors spent millions, mostly to help elect now-Gov. Doug Ducey, two utility regulators and a handful of lawmakers.

A new law passed during this past session gives further protection to the groups that spend in elections but don’t report where it comes from. And keeping track of dark money expenditures in Arizona hasn’t been quick or easy.

That’s why AZCIR decided to build @AZDarkMoneyBot.

Less is more: Dems run fewer Corp Comm candidates for better odds

This fall, Arizona voters will choose three utility regulators, and while one might expect that each of the main parties would run a full slate of candidates, Democrats are only running two.

The strategy of running two Democrats instead of three for the Arizona Corporation Commission makes the state’s underdog party counterintuitively more competitive to win at least one seat, while ruling out the possibility of winning three.

AZCIR receives $25,000 grant from Arizona Community Foundation

PHOENIX — The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, the state’s only nonprofit newsroom dedicated to statewide investigative journalism, has received a $25,000 grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.

The grant will help fund AZCIR’s original and collaborative reporting, by expanding the Center’s capacity to produce investigative projects with partner newsrooms across Arizona.

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.

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