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Bill would require shadowy political groups to list donors

PHOENIX - Backed by Arizona's secretary of state and attorney general, a lawmaker is pushing to require corporations established to influence elections to disclose where their money comes from.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said it's important that the public know who is behind such efforts.

HB 2835 would require corporations, limited liability companies and labor organizations that influence elections to act as a political action committee does and file campaign-finance reports listing their sources of funding.

"This bill allows us to know clearly who's contributing and it's not done under a cloak of secrecy," Farnsworth said.

The bill is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which found that governments may not restrict political spending by corporations. The court found that such restrictions would infringe upon free speech.

Groups nationally have played around the edges of Citizens United, creating shadowy organizations that purchase adds supporting or opposing candidates without disclosing their backers.

For example, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is in charge of elections, said his office received complaints about several independent groups that organized as corporations to influence the recall election of former state Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and the Phoenix mayor's race.

"Basically they were hiding all the sources of their money," he said.

Bennett said that while the bill isn't a direct result of either race, the elections highlighted challenges of dealing with the Citizens United ruling.

"They just happened to be the two after Citizens United," Bennett said. "We wanted to clarify before elections this year."

Attorney General Tom Horne joined Bennett at a news conference in support of Farnsworth's bill.

Similar bills addressing the Citizens United ruling have been introduced in California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont, according to the government watchdog group Public Citizen.

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