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Court to decide on Arizona election-advertising transparency

Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer

The state Court of Appeals will decide whether groups that run ads criticizing candidates right before an election have to disclose their donors. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports.

Arizona law says any organization trying to influence an election is subject to disclosure laws. But, last year a trial judge said that standard does not apply to the Committee for Justice and Fairness even though it ran a TV commercial critical of Tom Horne right before the 2010 election. More alarming to Secretary of State Ken Bennett was the judge ruling that the state cannot demand disclosure unless campaign materials use certain magic words, like “vote for,” “support” or “oppose,” no matter what else the ad says.

“In a democratic republic, where we’re asking the people to select their leaders, who are then going to make important decisions on their behalf, I think the public expects and deserves to know who is behind efforts to influence their opinion,” Bennett said.

Attorney Tom Irvine, who represents the committee, did not dispute the commercial said some unflattering things about Horne — including charges he was against tougher penalties for rape and permitted teachers viewing pornography to be near school children — and that the commercial aired as Horne was running for attorney general. But, he said the only test of whether an ad is trying to influence an election should be those magic words.

“Otherwise, speech would be chilled because some government regulator would be deciding what the purpose of the speech was,” Irvine said.

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