CLC Joins Fight to Protect Arizona Transparency Law

An out of focus statue of Lady Justice in the foreground with a gavel on top of a stack of $100 bills behind it on a desk

In March 2023, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) filed a federal lawsuit seeking suit seeking to overturn Arizona’s newly enacted Proposition 211, also known as the Voters’ Right to Know Act.  

On April 28, 2023, CLC Action (CLCA) filed a motion for Voters’ Right to Know (VRTK) to intervene as a defendant to join the effort to defend the new law. VRTK is the committee originally formed to create and support Proposition 211 as a ballot initiative. Along with this motion, CLC Action filed a proposed motion to dismiss the case. 

The Voters’ Right to Know Act shines light on the original sources of secret spending (also called “dark money” campaign contributions) in Arizona elections, requiring major spenders to disclose the original sources of large contributions bankrolling their campaign media spending, along with any intermediaries who passed money along from those major contributors. The act also requires major spenders to allow contributors to “opt-out” from having their contributions spent on campaign media spending. 

Arizona voters overwhelmingly approved Prop 211 in November 2022, with 72% of voters in support. By revealing the original sources of secret spending in Arizona, the act enhances robust debate and provides voters with information critical to casting a well-informed vote and holding their elected leaders accountable. 

Before the passage of Proposition 211, Arizona’s existing campaign finance disclosure system led to the Grand Canyon State being described as “one of the most pro-dark-money statutes imaginable,” resulting in a flood of secret spending each election cycle. By funneling big money through intermediaries that are rarely required to disclose information about where their money comes from—such as 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations—wealthy special interests were able to hide their role in attempting to influence voters and our government. 

In their suit, AFP and AFPF argue that the Voters’ Right to Know Act’s new original source disclosure and disclaimer provisions would chill protected speech and compel association between upstream donors and big campaign spenders.  

CLCA and VRTK assert that disclosure laws like Prop 211 promote First Amendment values, providing voters with critical information about the people behind campaign media spending and contributions without interfering with a spender’s right to speak. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld disclosure and disclaimer laws as important transparency measures that protect citizens’ right to be informed voters, holding in Citizens United v. FEC that “disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.” The Court further noted that disclaimer and disclosure requirements “impose no ceiling on campaign-related activities . . . and do not prevent anyone from speaking.” As a result, disclosure laws like the Voters’ Right to Know Act enhance, rather than constrain, the free speech necessary to sustain our democracy. 

If AFP and AFPF prevail, Arizona voters will once again be subject to a flood of secret spending seeking to influence their vote and their government without the resources to discover who is behind the ads. Arizona voters have a right to know, and CLCA and VRTK are working to protect that right. 

Elizabeth is a Senior Legal Counsel on the Campaign Finance team at CLC.