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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.

Arizona: 22nd in nation for government transparency, accountability

Arizona ranked a little above average in a new State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven assessment of government accountability and transparency in all 50 states by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. Arizona received an overall score of 64 – a D grade – and ranked 22nd among all the states.

Three years ago, Arizona’s State Integrity score was 68 for a D+, but it ranked 30th among the states. The two scores are not directly comparable, however, due to changes made to improve and update the project and methodology, such as eliminating a category for redistricting, a process that generally occurs only once every 10 years.

AZCIR awarded renewed funding from Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation

The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit investigative newsroom that focuses on statewide accountability reporting, has received a second round of funding from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. The $100,000 grant will help AZCIR continue its data analysis service for partner newsrooms while growing the Center’s capacity to produce multimedia-rich content across media platforms.

Clean Elections looking into Corp Comm texts

Arizona election regulators have taken note of records showing that Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump was in regular contact with the campaigns of candidates he supported and a “dark money” group that helped get them elected, and they want to see and inspect those records themselves.

The Arizona Citizens Clean Election Commission has asked for copies of text message logs and communications in order to determine whether a further investigation is warranted.

Phone logs connect Corporation Commissioner to campaigns, ‘dark money’ and utility

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump repeatedly communicated with the executive director of a “dark money” group that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect the candidates he backed, while also keeping regular contact with those candidates, their campaign manager, and a senior executive of the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, according to recently released records.

The links to Stump, who was the Commission chairman at the time, come three months after a whistleblower complaint made by a Commission staff member alleged that Stump and former commissioner Gary Pierce facilitated electioneering from inside the commission.

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