Sometimes a single sentence can send special-interest groups into a frenzy.
The latest example: House Bill 2002, sponsored by State Representative John Kavanagh, which would prohibit governmental entities from using taxpayer dollars to pay dues to groups that attempt to influence ballot outcomes.
It makes sense: state and local governments are forbidden from using public funds to support or oppose ballot measures. But the Arizona School Boards Association, though composed entirely of entities subject to the ban (more than 240 school district boards ranging from Phoenix Union and Tucson Unified to Yuma Elementary), copiously contributes to ballot measure campaigns – always, it seems, supporting tax increases or costly programs. Representative Kavanagh’s bill would curb this money-laundering scheme.
The proposed reform sends ASBA’s legislative defenders into a tizzy. State Representative Eric Meyer, who also serves on a school board, charges that the bill threatens ASBA’s free-speech rights.
You bet the bill implicates free-speech rights – those of taxpayers. It’s a maxim of free-speech law that government cannot compel taxpayers to support speech with which they disagree, which is why state law prohibits state and local governments from doing so.
But wait, ASBA’s defenders argue, the funds being used for politics come from the association’s private vendors. But that is impossible to verify, because ASBA contends it is immune from public-records laws – again, despite the fact that all of its members are subject to them.
Regardless, this is not about the private vendors seeking to influence politics, which of course they are free to do. The vendors, who want to sell products and services to school districts, pay to display their wares, which ASBA then turns into a political slush fund.
ASBA’s defenders in any other context would decry such campaign finance shell games. But they value too much ASBA’s financial support for their pet causes. HB2002 would put an end to this charade and ensure that school district funds – whether derived from taxpayers or vendors – are used for schools, not politics.
Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
Goldwater Institute: School districts use public money to influence Arizona elections
Goldwater Institute: Shameless Self-Promotion: How Politicians Use Your Money to Get Re-elected
Arizona Legislature: House Bill 2002