Ever wondered who’s behind those “I Vote 4 Education” signs sprouting up on street corners across Arizona? They’re sponsored by an issue advocacy group called Expect More Arizona. That group is funded by a variety of interests including the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA), which represents public officials who oversee taxpayer-funded school districts.
ASBA has been directly involved in several recent Arizona elections. The association contributed to the Yes on 100 sales tax increase campaign and, in June, donated $50,000 to the No on Proposition 302 campaign to oppose a November ballot measure that would end a costly and ineffective early-childhood program.
Wait, you might ask, isn’t it illegal to spend public funds on ballot measures? Yes, it is.
ASBA believes it is immune from that law because it is a “private” nonprofit organization. But its voting members consist entirely of school districts, whose dues come from public funds, and all of ASBA’s officers are current school board members. It’s a nifty trick: school boards that cannot use public money to campaign create a “private” organization that can.
It’s not just ballot measures: one of ASBA’s stated goals is to “advocate the core beliefs and political agenda as adopted by the membership.” That translates into a 21-page political agenda that calls for – you guessed it – more spending on public schools.
ASBA contends it uses only “private” money generated from its workshops to support its election activities. We decided to find out by submitting a public-records request to see ASBA’s finances. Guess what? Request denied. Even though every voting member is subject to the public-records law, by joining together in ASBA – voila! – suddenly they’re not.
In our view, public money should not be used for lobbying or electioneering. The misuse of public funds doesn’t get any cleaner by laundering them through a theoretically private entity. It’s an abuse of power that cries out for legislative action – and if necessary, litigation.
Clint Bolick is the director of the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.
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Arizona School Boards Association: About ASBA
Expect More Arizona: Funders