Koch-Funded Group Wants to Quash Arizona Voter Rights

Republican lawmakers have launched an attack against Arizona's ballot initiative process, which has been the sole means to enact progressive measures in the red state.

Gov. Ducey called the legislation "common sense reform" to avoid voter fraud, but he offered no evidence of voter fraud in the state's citizen initiatives. Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Right-leaning groups and GOP lawmakers aim to make it tougher for Arizonans to pass ballot initiatives after voters overwhelming passed a $12 minimum wage initiative in 2016.

Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation last week outlawing the common practice of paying signature gatherers based on the number of signatures collected.

The Republican sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Vince Leach (R-Tucson), received various gifts, according to a 2016 disclosure report, from a handful of conservative groups, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a legislation mill that gets it money from corporations and the billionaire Koch brothers.

ALEC courts lawmakers hostile to workers’ rights and makes no secret of its plan to attack progressive measures like the minimum wage, which the group argues harms companies’ bottom line, as Rewire has reported.

The new Arizona law, which only applies to voter initiatives, not to individual races, kills financial incentive for circulators to gather as many signatures as possible. Campaigns will be forced to pay by the hour or rely on volunteers.

Ducey called the legislation “common sense reform” to avoid voter fraud, but he offered no evidence of voter fraud in the state’s citizen initiatives. The legislation cites a single claim of voter fraud in 2006 in Michigan.

Democrats contend that Republicans want to make it tougher for citizens to pass progressive policies via ballot initiatives, as the Associated Press reported.

Republicans control both of Arizona’s legislative chambers and the governor’s office, leaving the state ballot initiative process as the sole means to enact progressive measures in the red state. The Arizona constitution has guaranteed the right to voter initiatives since 1912.

Conservative groups tried and failed last year to torpedo the state minimum wage ballot measure, known as Prop 206, which passed with 58.3 percent approval from state voters.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the Koch brothers, were the key funders of the political action committee, No on Prop 206. The state Chamber of Commerce also tried and failed to block the minimum wage measure in court.

Campaign disclosures show that ALEC, the Koch-backed lobbying group, made gifts in 2016 to two GOP lawmakers, state Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Scottsdale) and Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff), who are pushing two other bills to make it tougher for citizen initiatives to qualify and pass.

Kavanagh sponsored SCR 1013, which would require ballot initiative signatures to come from every legislative district, rather than the whole state, making signature gathering more difficult and costly. Right now, the typical initiative requires a certain percentage (generally 10 percent) of signatures from eligible statewide voters to qualify for the ballot.

Meanwhile, HB 2255, sponsored by Thorpe, would prohibit out-of-state spending on voter initiatives after out-of-state groups spent heavily in support of the $12 minimum wage initiative.