Secretary of state-elect Katie Hobbs said she will push for transparency in campaign finance once she takes office as Arizona’s top elections official.
During a press conference at the Executive Tower on Monday, Hobbs addressed a wide range of issues, including the conduct of elections, campaign finance and her agenda after taking office in January. She said she wants to increase transparency, make it easier for all eligible voters to cast ballots and repair the relationship between the Secretary of State’s Office and Arizona’s 15 county recorders.
Hobbs, the Senate minority leader who represents the central-Phoenix-based District 24, said she’d like to see campaign finance reporting in non-election years, when candidates and other political committees aren’t currently required to file reports. She said she’ll also push for disclosure of “dark money,” anonymous campaign spending that has proliferated, primarily through nonprofit corporations, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010.
The incoming secretary of state said she would also support transparency measures that would have hit closer to home for her during the recent election. The Arizona Democratic Party spent about $3.3 million aiding Hobbs’s campaign – both parties did so with other candidates, as well – using a provision of a 2016 law that allows candidates and political parties to openly coordinate campaign activities.
But that law doesn’t require parties to specify how much they’re spending for individual candidates. Hobbs said she would support legislation requiring those expenditures to be itemized by candidate.
“I’m prepared to support any laws that increase transparency in campaign finance,” she said.
Hobbs answered questions about controversies that popped up during and after the general election, most notably in Maricopa County, where Republicans cried foul over County Recorder Adrian Fontes’s decision to verify signatures on early ballots after the polls closed on Election Day, and to open five emergency voting centers that would be open to all voters in the three days prior to the election, regardless of whether they had genuine emergencies that would keep them from the polls.
Though Republicans raised concerns about the use of emergency voting centers, Hobbs said she saw no issue with allowing as many people as possible to vote, and questioned who should have the right to decide whether a voter has an emergency. She said she would support legislation creating more uniform standards among the counties – many counties offer emergency voting, but most don’t open voting centers for that purpose – but said a better option may be to simply extend early voting until the day before the election. Currently, early voting ends on the Friday before Election Day.
“There’s absolutely no reason why that shouldn’t happen right now,” she said of extending early voting.
Hobbs also said county election officials should verify mis-matched signatures for all early ballots that voters drop off at polling places on Election Day. Most counties didn’t use the practice in previous elections, but after several county GOP organizations sued in response to Maricopa County implementing that policy, all 15 counties pledged to do so in a settlement agreement several days after the Nov. 6 election.
Some Republicans have alleged that there was fraud in Arizona’s election, though none have offered any proof to back up those claims. Hobbs said on Monday that she doesn’t believe there was any fraud. She said fraud should be a concern for every election official in the state, but Arizona’s current laws appear to be doing a good job of addressing the issue.
She said about 20 people have been convicted in Arizona of election fraud-related crimes over the past eight years. In that time, there have been more than 10 million ballots cast in statewide primary and general elections.
Hobbs touched on a couple of the problems that have plagued outgoing Secretary of State Michele Reagan, who has come under fire for not updating the state’s election procedures manual, which provides binding guidelines for county election officials and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on an unusable campaign finance website. The website Reagan ultimately built, seethemoney.com, has faced criticism for being difficult to use.
Asked what she planned to do with the campaign finance website, Hobbs said she plans to simply start anew. And she said one of her first orders of business will be to start working with county recorders on a new election procedures manual for the 2020 election.
Any plans of Hobbs’s that require legislation could be problematic, given that Republicans still control the Governor’s Office and both chambers of the Legislature, though the GOP’s advantage in the Arizona House of Representatives is just 31-29. But Hobbs said she has good relationships with many Republican lawmakers, and said voters made it clear in the election that they want the GOP to work with Democrats.
Aside from Hobbs, voters chose Democrats in races for U.S. Senate, superintendent of public instruction and Corporation Commission, and flipped four Republican-held legislative seats to the Democrats.
“I think the one thing that was made loud and clear this election is that Arizona is not a one-party state anymore. There’s a mandate for Republicans to work with Democrats to get things done for the good of our state,” she said.
Hobbs, the first Democrat elected secretary of state since 1990 and the highest-ranking elected Democrat in state government in Arizona, said she’ll work to avoid partisanship. She said the secretary of state should be the most non-partisan elected official in state government, and she pledged to not endorse candidates or ballot measures while serving as secretary of state.
Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett made a similar pledge for the 2010 election, but reneged in 2012 and became a campaign co-chair for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
She also vowed to find a nonpartisan expert to serve as her election director. Eric Spencer, who has held the position for four years under Reagan, was a prominent Republican election attorney before joining the Secretary of State’s Office, and has been viewed by critics as a partisan figure.
The secretary of state is first in the line of succession to the Governor’s Office, meaning Hobbs will succeed Republican Gov. Doug Ducey if he leaves office early. Four of the last nine secretaries of state have become goernor through succession, and every governor since 1974 who has entered office through election, rather than succession, has left early.
The possibility of a Democrat replacing a Republican, or vice versa, has periodically led to calls for a lieutenant governor position in Arizona. Asked about the issue on Tuesday, Hobbs noted that voters have rejected such proposals – most recently in 2010 – and said voters can put another lieutenant governor proposal on the ballot if they want.
And should Ducey elevate her to the state’s top office by stepping down before the end of his term in January 2023, “I’m prepared to take on the role if that happens,” Hobbs said.