Bentley v. Building Our Future – 12/20/2007

January 2, 2008

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Construes the “Same Subject” Exemption to Political Committee Advertising Under A.R.S. § 16-912.01, and Holds That Advertisements Supporting Multiple Bond Propositions Were Not “More Than Fifty Percent Devoted to . . . the Same Subject.”

Under A.R.S. § 16-912.01(A), a political committee must disclose its four largest funding sources in connection with ballot proposition advertising. Building Our Future (“BOF”) printed advertisements supporting the seven ballot propositions at issue in a 2006 City of Phoenix special bond election, but did not identify its four major funding sources on its advertisements. Linda Bentley and G. Russel Childress (“Bentley”) sued BOF, alleging a violation of A.R.S. § 16-912.01(A). BOF contended that § 16-912.01(H) exempted it from the otherwise applicable disclosure requirements because the advertisements were not “more than fifty percent devoted to one or more ballot propositions or proposed measures on the same subject.” (Emphasis added). The superior court defined “same subject’ to include overlapping and interdependent ballot propositions “which are closely related and which further the same purposes,” and found that under this definition, BOF’s advertisements were subject to the disclosure requirements. BOF appealed.

The Arizona Appeals Court vacated the superior court’s ruling, holding that the bond propositions did not deal with the same subject. The Court reasoned that the common use of the term “same” means “identical,” rather than “closely related,” and that the bond propositions did not relate to identical subject matter. The court also looked to the standard used in analyzing proposed amendments under Article 21, § 1 of the Arizona Constitution and the Single Amendment Rule, to find support for its narrow definition of “same subject.” Finally, the court cited case law specific to bond elections, noting that under these cases, the several parts of a proposed bond measure must have a natural relationship. The bond propositions at issue in the advertisement failed to meet any of these standards, precluding the application of the disclosure provisions to the advertisements.

Judge Kessler authored the opinion; Judges Brown and Winthrop concurred.