Beth Shimek

614. Arizona law empowers voters to see who is behind a political contribution

An astonishing 72 percent of Arizona’s voters cast ballots in favor of Proposition 211 in 2022, a state law enshrining voters’ rights to know who’s paying for the political ads they’re seeing. It’s the job of Elizabeth Shimek and her team at the Campaign Legal Center to make sure that the constitutionally backed law is enacted and put into place properly. 

“When you look at Arizona, elections are very close in the partisan aspect, whether it’s at the local level, the state level or the federal level. But 72 percent of voters across partisan lines thought it was important to know who was spending to influence their votes,” says Shimek, senior legal counsel for campaign finance at the Campaign Legal Center, a non-profit, non-partisan organization “dedicated to protecting and strengthening democracy across all levels of government.” 

The CLC has four main focus areas: Campaign finances, ethics, voting rights and redistricting. The 22-year-old organization is called upon regularly to participate in campaign finance-related cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, of which there have been many. “At the core, our work is dedicated to promoting every American’s right to participate in a transparent, democratic process,” she says. 

Arizona’s then-attorney general approached Shimek and CLC to consult with him, as legal experts, to “develop principles of how Prop 211 works in a way that would provide for real, full disclosure on the original sources of this money that’s being spent in Arizona in election ads and so that would be easy to defend against court challenges,” she says. “We looked at the language to ensure the policy actually works in context; it’ not just a great idea, it’s a functional one. We’re well aware there are many wealthy special interests that want to influence voters without disclosing who they are and that they’d be likely to challenge the law and they’d fight to prevent people from having the information they need to be fully informed voters.”  

Shimek, who lives in Wisconsin, another “purple” state, says most Americans want to know who pays for the political ads that fill the TV and airwaves before an election. Even more, “people deserve to know more than just ‘Americans for America’ supported this (ad). They can make better decisions when they know whether they agree or disagree with the funders who put a message before them.” 

It’s unusual for any kind of legislation or policy to have that kind of majority support and it’s something Shimek and her team are already defending in court in advance of the first major election cycle for which Prop 211 will be in place. On the federal level, CLC recently defended the state law against Americans for Prosperity, which challenged the law on the basis of disclosing independent expenditures. 

“It was a very bold attack on all disclosures,” Shimek says. “When the court issued its decision, it looked step by step at Americans for Prosperity’s argument, which went against this long chain of cases including Citizens United in favor of disclosure and addressed each element of the argument. More than any court that has looked at the law before, it understood the law and how it works and determined (Prop 211) was completely constitutional.”

Shimek points out that the controversial Citizens United case several years ago was intended to bolster transparency when it comes to who’s paying for ads, not just under the umbrella of a special interest group or political action community, but where the money came from originally instead of lumping all donors together in a slogan-based name. 

“When the Supreme Court decided Citizens United and allowed all of this spending to come into our election system, it did so with the understanding there would be disclosure, that people would know who was behind this speech and who was speaking to try to influence that,” Shimek says. “While that has not borne out in most laws post-Citizens United, Prop 211 follows in that tradition and returns the law to what the Supreme Court thought it would look like when it comes to transparency.” 

Allison Taylor-Levine

625. Community collaboration key to evolving local journalism

Allison Taylor Levine, CEO of Local Journalism Initiative, discusses how LJI’s Delaware Journalism Collaborative, which has brought more than 25 partners throughout the state together to report on polarization and possible solutions, strengthens local journalism in Delaware and our democracy.

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