Meet Our Candidates: Ken Clark for State Representative, LD 24

The Arizona primary election will be held on August 30, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the primary election, you must register to vote by August 1 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2016!

[O]ur candidate interviews usually focus on Planned Parenthood’s core concerns, like reproductive health, sex education, and reproductive choice. This interview is an exception. Rep. Clark was interviewed in 2014 on these issues, and has been an ally during his term in the House, where he represents Central Phoenix’s Legislative District 24.

“There are enough people in this state that if 5,000 people collected one petition, we’d get this done.”

Recently, however, he has been instrumental in trying to repeal a law passed at the end of this session, SB 1516, that makes it easier for dark money to influence our elections. Dark money is money used by groups like nonprofit organizations, corporations, or labor unions for political purposes. At issue is whether and how such groups have to reveal the sources of their funds. Instead of writing a separate piece on dark money, we decided to use today’s installment of our Meet Our Candidates series to shine a light on the issue. Planned Parenthood believes in the importance of fair and clean elections that accurately represent the will of the people.

You can learn more about dark money at Stop Corruption Now. Rep. Clark generously took the time to answer our questions via telephone on July 5, 2016.

When I moved to Arizona 20 years ago, I was impressed with the way elections here were run, especially that candidates could use public monies to finance their campaigns, for a more equal playing field. So I’ve been very disturbed by attacks on the system in recent years, including SB 1516, which was passed at the end of this legislative session and signed into law without much discussion. Can you tell us what this law does that is so damaging to our elections?

Senate Bill 1516 completely wipes out our previous campaign finance statute, and replaces it with something that will allow people to hide money in our political system, and in doing so, threaten politicians and blackmail them to get them to do what they want. So it’s an unprecedented change, and it doesn’t matter what issue you care the most about — if this law stays in place, your issue will be affected, because you will no longer have a Legislature that acts based on the merits of the law; with this law in place, it will act based on who has the most money and who is threatening whom.

Here are two major things. First, it abdicates the state’s responsibility to oversee what we commonly know of as dark money. The state doesn’t do a very good job of overseeing it now, but it could do a good job. [SB 1516] goes in the wrong direction. Let me tell you what I mean by that. This law says that anybody who operates a dark money group — a 501(c)(4) organization, corporation, or union — as long as they are registered with the IRS, doesn’t have to report where their money comes from when they do activities in the state.

So there are two problems with that. First, the IRS doesn’t want the job of overseeing dark money, and it has said as much. And second, the reports come in what’s called a federal 990 Form, and that doesn’t get filed with the IRS until nine months, a year, 18 months after the election, so we won’t know who’s trying to influence our election.

The second thing that SB 1516 does is that it changes the definition of earmarking. Earmarking is when somebody goes to a political campaign or a political party, gives them a bunch of money, and says, “Hey, I want you to spend this money on that candidate right there.” That is a backdoor contribution to that candidate. That definition is changed so that it’s very difficult to prove that any earmarking takes place. So the thing that got Tom Horne in trouble back in 2014 was earmarking. With this law, we would not be able to bring him to court for the earmarking he did on the 2014 campaign.

Let me tell you one other impact that I forgot. There’s the disclosure impact, but there’s also that somebody could go to any politician, from the Legislature on down to the city council [or] the water board, and say, “I want you to vote this way on this bill, or we’re going to spend $200,000 against you in your next campaign.” We know that this happens because I’ve had legislators tell me they’ve been threatened with the use of dark money. In fact, there was an article about Jeff DeWitt about eight weeks ago telling how he’d been threatened by the governor’s office with the use of dark money.

So it becomes a kind of leverage.

Yes, that’s right.

I know that there are several attempts to overturn SB 1516, including your “people’s veto” proposal. Can you explain what these measures would do?

There is only one initiative left. There was an initiative that sought to reform the clean elections system but it did not get enough signatures to continue, so they closed down. So we’re the only effort out there now to repeal portions of SB 1516. It’s us or nothing. In Arizona, if we don’t like any law, we have the right to take that law to the ballot and allow people to vote whether they want that law. What you have to do is get a certain number of petition signatures within 90 days of the end of the legislative session, so that deadline is August 5. We’re out furiously collecting signatures the best that we can. We’re an all-volunteer force; we’re asking people to contribute their time and their money so we can get this done. There are enough people in this state that if 5,000 people collected one petition, we’d get this done.

In the most recent legislative session, SB 1019, was introduced in the Senate, but unfortunately never made it over to the House.  SB 1019 would have taken this language out of the sex education law: “No district shall include in its course of study instruction which promotes a homosexual life-style, portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style, [or] suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” Why do you think it’s important that sex education in Arizona be inclusive of all students?

I would have voted in favor of that bill because it’s very clear that we need to rely on medically accurate sex education. And it’s medically accurate to say that there are healthy homosexual relationships just as there are healthy heterosexual relationships, and that there are methods of safe sex in all types of sexual relationships.

You voted against HB 2599, which lays the groundwork for Arizona to kick Planned Parenthood out of AHCCCS, our state Medicaid program. If that happens, AHCCCS patients couldn’t choose Planned Parenthood for their preventive health care and birth control needs. Do you think Planned Parenthood health centers play an important part in keeping Arizonans healthy?

It is clear to me and has been for decades, that Planned Parenthood plays an important role in health care in the United States. They are willing to work in areas that other clinics are not; there are clinics out there that are ideologically driven and give inaccurate information about health care and sexual health care, and I think it’s crucial for people to have the opportunity to get good information and good health care. Planned Parenthood has been doing that for decades and decades, and I’m happy to support them.

It’s already been found unconstitutional to limit the choice of providers for Medicaid recipients, so I don’t know why they keep passing laws that do that.

Well, they’re going to do whatever they can to chip away at people’s rights, at a woman’s right to choose. It’s unfortunate, and it’s really sad every time, they keep talking about women’s health, but requiring women to drive twice as far to get care when you don’t do that for any other kind of health care is just offensive on its face, and it’s clearly disingenuous.

What did you think of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt?

Again, it’s more of the same — [Texas HB 2 was part of] a series of efforts by the right to make it harder for women to access reasonable health care. And they do so by holding abortion providers, and health care providers who happen to do abortions, to a standard that’s unreasonable for any other procedures.

This decision gave us the language with which to fight unreasonable regulation of abortion providers.

It did, it set boundaries. They’ll find other ways to restrict access to reasonable health care, and every time they do it, we’ll just go back to court, and it’s just a waste of money for everyone. And the state ends up paying the legal fees for Planned Parenthood, which I don’t think the public knows. So people who don’t like Planned Parenthood maybe shouldn’t pass laws that [cause them to] end up paying the legal fees of Planned Parenthood.

To learn more about Ken Clark you can visit his website, like him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter! And, if you would like to help in the effort to fight against dark money, you can volunteer at Stop Corruption Now.

If you don’t know what legislative district you’re in, you can click here to find out! You can also contact us if you’d like to volunteer for an endorsed candidate in your legislative district.