Arizona's divisive SB1026 -- which supporters claim protected religious freedom, and critics say served as cover for businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians -- didn't come from nowhere.
It took time to hash out among both state lawmakers and interest groups. In this case, advocates from the Arizona Center for Policy and Alliance Defending Freedom -- whose website says it "coordinates legal efforts (for) Christian legal and policy organizations" all across the United States and in 31 countries -- were among those who played a part in crafting the legislation.
But from where, or from whom, did the impetus come? And who paid for the Arizona push and similar ones in a host of other states?
America may never know.
The reason has to do partly with the often collaborative, coordinated way that legislation takes shape. Numerous players inside and outside government, and based inside and outside of Arizona, helped make it happen. Some of them spoke publicly; others worked behind the scenes.
Plus, it takes money to coordinate and spread such a message and legislative proposals nationwide. Good luck tracking such funds, given the ways that groups -- known as 501c4s -- can pop up overnight, spend money on causes and campaigns (without disclosing their donors), then disappear.
"Because there are holes in the disclosure regime," said Ian Vandewalker from New York University law school's Brennan Center for Justice, "there are things that we just don't know."
Efforts under way in at least 14 states
Other states have proposed legislation aimed at protecting what their authors call "religious freedom." Some essentially use identical language.
For instance bills in Arizona, Georgia and Ohio all contain these words: "'Exercise of religion' means the practice or observance of religion ... including the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a ... religious belief."
This congruence isn't a coincidence. It's not uncommon for legislation born one place to be copied -- sometimes word-for-word -- somewhere else.
But absent explicit proof, it's hard to say that one person or one donor is behind any such effort. As the head of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center's American Religious Freedom program, Brian Walsh, says, "a couple of dozen organizations (might be involved) with any legislation."
Walsh, who says his group "defends religious freedom for all faiths" and has "probably consulted on 12 to 15 different types of legislation in states over the past couple years," says the push for such bills stems from a belief that, since 1990, the U.S. "Supreme Court does not protect religious freedom as a matter of constitutional law." (His group was more deeply involved in pending legislation in places like Kansas, according to Walsh.)
"At that point, ... anybody who had any degree of foresight knew you were going to have conflicts over religious freedom," Walsh said of what he calls the fateful Supreme Court ruling, Employment Division v. Smith.
In that case, the plaintiffs were denied unemployment benefits in Oregon after being fired from their jobs for using peyote in a ceremony associated with their Native American Church. The Supreme Court sided with the state, saying the plaintiffs still had a responsibility to follow state law if that law is not specifically targeted toward that religion.
Not everyone agrees that there's a crisis at hand, including conservative Republicans like Brewer.
"Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona," Brewer said Wednesday to explain her veto. "I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated."
The money trail
Regardless of whether one thinks it's justified, there's no doubt that many efforts are actively under way along similar lines. CNN counted 14 legislative initiatives in various states similar to Arizona's.
But it typically takes more than ideas for such a national push: It takes influence and money.
But where that influence and money are coming from is hard to decipher.
That's because of how money moves, and is spent, in politics -- especially on hot-button issues that, from the standpoint of many in the public, emerge out of nowhere.
For one thing, as Vandewalker notes, the federal government "has its own set of rules and each state has its own set of rules about what has to be disclosed and what can be spent."
Under the federal rules alone, a lot of information doesn't have to be released, says Robert Maguire from the Center for Responsive Politics. The groups known as 501c4s are officially corporations that, per the law, can spend as they wish. At some point, they might spell out their spending in tax forms but, by then, the issue may be over and the group -- which needs little more than a P.O. Box to set up shop -- might no longer be operational.
"With an issue like (the 'religious freedom' issue), where there is suddenly ... a large number of debates, it's entirely possible that groups have popped up, and nobody knows anything about them," Maguire said. "... It's becoming more common to have these churning networks of money so that nobody can track it."