Arizona Free Enterprise Club sticks to its founding principles

Founded 12 years ago to seal a perceived gap in the state's political landscape, the Arizona Free Enterprise Club continues to advocate for free market principles among lawmakers, according to its executive director.

Tax cuts, elimination of regulations and "sound economic policies that benefit all taxpayers" form the bedrock of its lobbying efforts in the state legislature, Scot Mussi, who has headed the organization since 2013, told Arizona Business Daily.

Mussi said the club was founded because some felt there was a gap in the conservative movement. The established Goldwater Institute was a think tank and more focused on the courts and the state's Chambers of Commerce could not always be counted on to support very basic free enterprise principles, Mussi said.

"Over the last several years we have pushed for major income tax cuts, including property tax reduction," he said. "We also pushed for elimination of unnecessary regulations."

Scot Mussi, President and Executive Director, Arizona Free Enterprise Club  

Ultimately, Mussi said, his organization wants to eliminate the state income tax.

It has occasionally headed to the courts to further its aims, most notably in a case involving matching funds for political candidates that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

That case was the American Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, which sought to overturn a rule that enabled candidates to use public funds to compete with high-spending opponents.

The Supreme Court struck down provisions in a 1998 Clean Elections law that gave extra grants to those using public money if the opponent or third parties spend more than a certain amount, a so-called "trigger."

"On the litigation front, we do occasionally engage in the courts, just not as frequently as Goldwater," Mussi said. "The Bennett case was a major victory for free speech in (Arizona), one that we are very proud of."

He said that his organization is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the minimum wage, which was passed by the majority of voters last November. That issue is currently before the Arizona Supreme Court.

The club is funded by grants and donations, with its income just short of $400,000 in 2015, according to documents filed with the IRS. This contrasts with the previous year when it pulled in $7.8 million and spent $7.2 million.

It was deeply involved in the contentious 2014 Arizona Corporation Commission race and spent heavily, including providing a grant of over $2.7 million to one group that backed largely anti-solar candidates. 

During this year's legislative session, Mussi said one of the bills he and others have been lobbying strongly for is one that essentially places into law Gov. Doug Ducey's executive order barring state agencies from hiring outside contract lobbyists.

SB 1125, sponsored by state Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), bars any state agency, board or commission from hiring outside lobbyists. Exceptions are those agencies headed by an elected representative. It has passed the state Senate and is waiting for a final vote in the House.

The reason for the executive order and the bill stems largely from health agencies using outside lobbyists to counter efforts to reduce regulations and oversight of medical professionals. Mussi said he hopes it will be signed by the governor.

Another piece of legislation the club supports is HB 2477, which would tighten rules on civil forfeiture claims by law enforcement agencies.

"We have been part of the coalition working on the legislation," Mussi said. The club is joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, in supporting this case.

Mussi also said his group is committed to "promoting educational choice and opportunities, including Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs)."

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Organizations in this Story

Arizona Corporation Commission Arizona Free Enterprise Club Goldwater Institute

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