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Why a Free Press? : Local campaign finance info to be on Web

It's not often our state legislators make government more transparent. This one's a doozy, which I think they all realized, because it passed the Senate unanimously and only five representatives voted against it.

It's not often our state legislators make government more transparent. This one's a doozy, which I think they all realized, because it passed the Senate unanimously and only five representatives voted against it.

Margaret Click, a family member of the Jim Click auto dealership empire, gave $2,300 to Arizona Sen. John McCain’s campaign for president March 17.

Christine Olson, the soon-to-be former Mrs. Lute Olson, gave state Rep. Tim Bee’s campaign for Congress $2,300 March 31.

Joan Diamond, part of the Don Diamond land empire, gave $390 Oct. 19 to state Rep. Pete Hershberger’s District 26 state Senate campaign. He’s being term-limited out of the House.

How do I know about these donations? I looked them up. It took about five minutes of searching each on the Federal Election Commission’s and the Arizona Secretary of State’s Web sites.

Candidates for the U.S. House and president file their campaign reports electronically. But the Senate still files by paper.

Candidates for state office also file their campaign reports electronically.

That’s not true for local elections, but it’s about to change after the governor signed SB 1024 last week, requiring most counties and municipalities to post campaign finance reports online.

There are two election cycles in any campaign: the one in which ballots are cast and the one in which checks are cashed, the latter mostly preceding the former.

Sources of money candidates use to persuade voters often reveal more about these candidates than any impassioned stump speech, no matter how much candidates deny that donated money buys or influences their votes.

Watchdog groups have been taking these federal files and dumping them into searchable databases so voters can see, for example, that the finance and insurance industry is giving more money to Democrats this elections cycle than to Republi-cans, $50 million to $44 million. That’s a switch from just two years ago when the industry gave more to Republicans.

What changed? The Democrats run Congress now.

In Arizona, newspapers will download the financial files for state House and Senate races and tell voters who’s getting the developer and construction money or which union gathered gobs of $5 donations for a candidate to qualify for public campaign funds.

But what about financing of county supervisor races? Or city and town councils? Or school, fire and water boards?

For example, who has given money to District 4 Supervisor Ray Carroll’s re-election campaign and why?

I don’t know.

I could find out, certainly, but I’d have to drive down to the county Election Division’s office on East 22nd Street and get copies of the paper filings.

To be sure, Tucson Citizen reporters will retrieve Ray’s reports and those for all of the other local races. That’s our job.

But what if you didn’t want to wait for the newspaper to report it? Or didn’t believe what you read in the paper?

You’d have to go down to East 22nd Street, too. Few do.

Senate Bill 1024 changes that. The law goes into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, which is expected to happen next month, certainly before June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

That means the campaign finance reports for the county September primaries likely won’t make it online. But they will for the general election in November.

Brad Nelson, the county’s elections director, said his office anticipated the bill’s passing and has been testing a beta version of a campaign finance Web page for the past couple of weeks. He may make it live before the law goes into effect, he said.

The new law does not require electronic filing, so most counties and municipalities will just scan in the documents and post the images on their sites.

Reporters and interested voters still will have to create their own databases or break out the calculator to find out how much Don Diamond and the like are donating to local candidates.

It’s not often our state legislators make government more transparent. This one’s a doozy, which I think they all realized, because it passed the Senate unanimously and only five representatives voted against it.

Well done.

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Read Tucson Citizen Assistant City Editor Mark B. Evans’ blog, “Why a Free Press?”

If you need help accessing records, call 573-4614 or e-mail mevans@tucsoncitizen.com

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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