Political campaigns

Chan: Ongoing political campaigns in Az; Ways to verify donation requests and track your money

Amy B. Chan

Special for TucsonSentinel.com

Amy B. Chan is the chair of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

If you have emails, chances are you’ve been asked to “step in” to support school board candidates for senator and to support nonprofits of all shapes and sizes.

And while consumers enjoy some protection against fraud and other malfeasance, a decade of legislative and court rulings has transformed the grabbing of campaign money into the Wild West.

The bipartisan commitment to “free speech” in the form of a slick paste has left fundraisers and spenders in the driver’s seat with little valuable protection for donors and voters. For example, most nonprofits doing business in Arizona do not need to register with the state before soliciting you for your dollar.

Meanwhile, The New York Times chronicled how unscrupulous online fundraising by politicians and their enablers led many voters to contribute far more than they wanted. Donors were able to secure refunds – to the tune of $122.7 million from a presidential campaign – while complaints about such practices made up 1-3% of consumer complaints to banks.

In this deregulated landscape, donors should keep a few key principles in mind when determining what to give and whether to give.

Be sure to give only what you intend to give. Many solicitations indicate in advance if the request is for an ongoing donation, but others do not. If you find a solicitation unclear or difficult to determine the terms of your donation, it is best to put away your credit card. Never allow yourself to be pressured. Don’t give organizations direct access to your bank account – best to give by credit card or check.

Similarly, donations from many so-called non-profit organizations are not tax deductible. Still others are soliciting on behalf of one or more related entities, one of which is not tax deductible, while the other is. This is a common occurrence among 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) with the same name. Make sure you know which one you intend to receive your donation from. Donations to 501(c)(3)s are generally tax deductible. Donations to 501(c)(4)s are not.

Finally, know how your money is being used. Candidates who run using traditional private fundraising face little scrutiny of how they spend their money unless there is a formal complaint. Therefore, reviewing campaign finance reports may, in some cases, be the only way to determine if your donations are being put to good use.

Nonprofit organizations do not need to provide information close to the details that applicants must disclose. Therefore, ensuring that your money will support the cause is more difficult to determine. You can consult a reputable online charitable donation tracker to determine if you are making a wise investment.

Finally, donors should use good security practices with their personal and financial information, do their research, and follow recommendations from trusted sources like the Federal Trade Commission.

Political campaigns are exciting and the ability of small donors to have an impact is important. But where there is money, you will often find scammers. Make sure you’ve researched the candidates and organizations before parting with your hard-earned cash. Keep track of important election dates and get nonpartisan information at AzCleanElections.gov.

Amy B. Chan is the chair of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. The Republican was nominated by then-Senate Democratic leader Katie Hobbs and is a former state election officer in the office of the secretary of state.

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