Phoenix Public Policy Nonprofit Braces For More Violence Over Forced Donor Disclosure

Phoenix Public Policy Nonprofit Braces For More Violence Over Forced Donor Disclosure

By Corinne Murdock |

A proposition intended to provide transparency to certain, alleged dark money networks may result in more danger for certain nonprofits. 

The Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) says it’s faced threats of violence and endured vandalism last year, and expressed concern that Prop 211, the Voters’ Right to Know Act, would exacerbate these issues. 

AFEC President Scot Mussi told AZ Free News that some of the threats of intimidation were so severe that they filed police reports. Mussi said that the forced disclosure of the names, addresses, occupations, and identities of employers for any donors who gave over $5,000 to them would be subject to the same evils they face. 

“Our supporters should be able to exercise their speech rights without fear of harassment or intimidation,” said Mussi.

Mussi predicted that Prop 211 would result in donors enduring retaliation and harassment. He pointed out that the proposition lacked substantive protections, except a provision protecting individuals from a “threat of physical harm.” However, Mussi was skeptical that the provision had any teeth for most organizations, save for the wealthy and powerful. 

Any group or entity that spends over $50,000 on campaign media spending in a statewide race or $25,000 in any other race must adhere to those disclosure requirements. The top three donors for that cycle must also be disclosed, even if their funds weren’t used for campaign media spending. 

Campaign media spending includes any public communications promoting, supporting, attacking, or opposing a candidate within six months of an election; referring to a candidate 90 days before a primary election; or even researching, designing, or producing content in preparation for public communication about a candidate. This expansive definition would include blog posts, articles, press releases, or social media posts.

Mussi told AZ Free News that the forced disclosure was tantamount to doxxing. He said the disclosures are a “well-known tactic” to silence dissent, referencing the ousting of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after he donated to fund a California initiative declaring that marriage belongs between a man and a woman. 

As a result of these concerns, AFEC filed a lawsuit to overturn Prop 211 last month. The nonprofit insists that First Amendment free speech protections also afford the right to not be forced to speak.

READ THE AFEC LAWSUIT HERE

Joining AFEC is the Center For Arizona Policy (CAP), a conservative nonprofit, represented by the Goldwater Institute. The named defendants include Governor Katie Hobbs in her former capacity as secretary of state, as well as the Arizona Clean Elections Commission.

In a press release, Goldwater Institute (GI) Senior Attorney Scott Day Freeman stated that Prop 211 would force donors to choose between supporting causes and organizations they believed in or having their donations and private information publicized on a government list.

“The result will be less free speech, more harassment, and an uglier political discourse,” stated Day Freeman. 

As AZ Free News reported, Prop 211 provides neat carveouts for primary sources of leftist dark money: corporate media, Big Tech, labor unions, and “nonpartisan” PACs, for example. 

The main financier of the measure, David Tedesco, is the founder and CEO of the Phoenix-based venture capitalist firm, Outlier. The leader of the effort was Terry Goddard, the state’s former Democratic attorney general. Both men told The Washington Post that they disagreed with characterizations of Prop 211 by AFEC, CAP, and GI.

Tedesco also pushed back against the Wall Street Journal editorial board opinion opposing the proposition. 

“Transparency and sunshine are happy words, but in reality disclosure laws have become a weapon used by the left to intimidate conservatives from engaging in politics. Groups trawl records for names and then organize social-media campaigns to harass and discourage donors,” wrote the board. “Americans looking to participate in campaigns can, and often do, see their names dragged through the mud. Many donors decline to engage, and political speech is chilled before it even happens.”

Tedesco rebutted that Prop 211 doesn’t present a free speech threat because it was backed financially by registered independents and Republicans. He said that voters had a right to know any financial sources behind free speech.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Some Top County Election Officials May Have Violated Law In Pushing “No” On Prop 309

Some Top County Election Officials May Have Violated Law In Pushing “No” On Prop 309

By Terri Jo Neff |

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has been asked to look into whether some of the state’s top election officials violated state law this week by issuing a statement opposing Proposition 309, which is on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

Prop 309 is before the voters to decide whether to amend several of Arizona’s current election laws. For an example, a “yes” vote would require voters to write their birthdate and government-issued identification number on the concealed early ballot affidavit, and for those who want to vote in-person they would be required to present an official photo identification at their polling place.

The Arizona Association of County Recorders (AACR) issued a statement Tuesday advocating a “no” vote which would leave in place the state’s existing laws about early ballot affidavits and voter identification. Among the duties of a county recorder is to conduct early voting, including mailing out early ballots and verifying signatures when early ballots are returned by voters.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer is the president of AACR and is the one who distributed the anti-Prop 309 statement on Tuesday. Yet according to election law expert Timothy La Sota, it appears Richer has violated two Arizona laws in connection with the statement, which was also posted to a website controlled by Maricopa County.

“Contrary to what Mr. Richer appears to believe, the County Recorder’s website is a publicly funded website, and using it as a vehicle to promote Mr. Richer’s political agenda is not only inappropriate, it is illegal,” attorney La Sota wrote, pointing Brnovich to Arizona Revised Statute 11-410(A) and 16-192(A). “This website is not at Mr. Richer’s disposal to use as a campaign website for his favored political causes.”

That first statute states a county “shall not spend or use its resources, including the use or expenditure of monies, accounts, credit, facilities, vehicles, postage, telecommunications, computer hardware and software, web pages, personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or any other thing of value” for the purpose of swaying an election outcome.

The second statute prohibits the state and “any public agency, department, board, commission, committee, council or authority” from spending or using public resources to influence an election, including the use of “computer hardware and software, web pages and personnel and any other thing of value of the public entity.”

La Sota pointed out that data associated with the document indicates the AACR statement -which includes the names of all 15 county recorders- was created by one of Richer’s employees during office hours, another “no no,” he told the attorney general.

“As a countywide elected official charged with various election related duties, Mr. Richer should know this,” La Sota added. “And his actions in placing his thumb on the scale illegally in this context do not auger well for maintaining a professional perception in other realms.”

During an interview Thursday morning, Amy Yentes of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club discussed why Arizona law expressly prohibits the government from electioneering activities in an effort to sway a particular race or contest.

“This is a protection for taxpayers,” Yentes told KFYI’s James T. Harris. She also supports La Sota’s request to Brnovich for an investigation into how the AACR’s anti-Prop 309 statement came to be created by a Maricopa County employee and posted to the county’s website.

“What is more disturbing is that Stephen Richer is an election administrator,” Yentes told Harris. “It is quite concerning that he can’t even follow basic election law and yet we’re trusting him to administer our elections.”

But that is not the only problem stemming from Richer’s distribution of the anti-Prop 309 statement, which he said on Tuesday afternoon was approved by AACR members by “unanimous voice vote (no nays, all ays).” Richer also tweeted that “14 of the 15 counties were present” for the vote, with only Apache County absent.

According to Cochise County Recorder David Stevens, the inference voters will make from the AACR statement and Richer’s social media comments is that all 15 county recorders are against Prop 309. In fact, Richer retweeted someone else’s comment that the vote was unanimous against the proposition.

That, Stevens says, is not true. In fact, he is an adamant supporter of Prop 309 and has demanded Richer correct the AACR statement and clear any misperception.

“Stephen, I was out of the office yesterday and did not see this email. I STRONGLY OBJECT to anyone assigning an opinion to me without my expressed consent. Silence is NOT acceptance. I do support prop 309 and kindly request you remove my name from this list and issue a retraction immediately,” Stevens wrote.

As of press time, Stevens had no contact from Richer about the Prop 309 issue. He was, however, included on a mass email the Maricopa County Recorder sent to his fellow recorders Wednesday evening.

“Good luck Recorders!” the subject line reads, before Richer wished everyone “the absolute best this early voting season.”

Supreme Court Rules Against Dark Money-Fueled Ballot Initiative Gutting Election Integrity Measures

Supreme Court Rules Against Dark Money-Fueled Ballot Initiative Gutting Election Integrity Measures

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, the Arizona Supreme Court invalidated signatures of a ballot initiative seeking to overhaul the state’s election processes, making it unlikely to appear on the November ballot.

Chief Justice Robert Brutinel ruled that Arizonans For Free and Fair Elections, or the Arizona Democracy Resource Center (ADRC) Action, failed to provide a valid mailing address to receive certified mail. Brutinel remanded the case back to the Maricopa County Superior Court to determine how many signatures his order impacts.

Based on the ruling — likely to invalidate tens of thousands of signatures — and sampling rejection rates, it appears unlikely that the initiative will have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. ADRC Action submitted over 475,000 signatures, and needs just over 237,600 to qualify. 

The Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) challenged the ballot initiative. In a statement to AZ Free News, AFEC President and Executive Director Scot Mussi asserted that the legal victory protected Arizonans from the harms of outside special interests.

“We are very pleased that the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling that Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections failed to gather enough lawful signatures to qualify for the ballot,” said Mussi. “This radical initiative imported 60 different provisions from Washington, D.C. that would have increased fraud, harmed small business, and empowered special interests. They spent over $7 million trying to buy their way onto the ballot, and they failed.”

The Maricopa County Superior Court’s original ruling reduced valid signatures to about 10,000 short of qualifying for the ballot, which AFEC likened to being “on life support.”

Below are some of Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections’ proposed changes: 

  • eliminate voter ID and proof of citizenship for voter registration
  • allow same-day voter registration
  • bar election audits like the most recent one for the 2020 election
  • raise small business taxes to increase political campaign funding
  • restore private funding in election administration
  • require universal vote centers
  • extend in-person early voting through the day before Election Day
  • require a court order to rule someone too incapacitated to vote
  • implement automatic voter registration for driver’s license and state ID recipients, as well as of-age high schoolers
  • allow curbside voting
  • allow “nontraditional residential addresses” such as mile markers or “geographic or other identifying features” when registering to vote
  • restore the permanent early voting list (PEVL) 
  • restore “inactive” voters to “active” status
  • permit “signature-only” voter registration
  • allow third parties to register voters
  • reduce contribution limits

As reported previously, ADRC Action accrued over $7.6 million from a national network of Democratic dark money for this ballot initiative. Their group traces back to a national donor network called “Way to Win,” launched for the purpose of defeating Republicans in response to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory.

Way to Win asserted that its $110 million in funding to key states, including Arizona and Georgia, were the reason for the Democrats’ blue wave in 2020. Way to Win’s major sources of funding include George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and family, Stryker Corporation heiress Patricia Stryker, the prominent D.C. consulting firm Arabella Advisors’ Sixteen Thirty (1630) Fund, and the Tides Foundation-backed One Arizona. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Dem Election Initiative Likely Off Ballot For Not Complying With Election Laws

Dem Election Initiative Likely Off Ballot For Not Complying With Election Laws

By Terri Jo Neff |

There is a very good chance Arizona voters will not see the proposed Arizona Fair Elections Act on their ballots in November now that a judge has kicked out tens of thousands of petition signatures. 

On Thursday, Judge Joseph Mikitish of the Maricopa County Superior Court sided with arguments from the Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) that many of the petition sheets filed by a Democratic-backed committee trying to change Arizona elections laws had, in fact, failed to comply with current election laws.

In July, the committee submitted 47,690 petition sheets containing roughly 475,000 signatures in hopes of qualifying the Arizona Fair Elections Act for the 2022 General Election ballot. At least 237,645 signatures must be deemed valid once random-sampling verification is completed by the state’s 15 county recorders.  

But AFEC filed a legal challenge which alleged more than 1,000 of the circulators who collected the signatures—representing one-half of the petitions—did so in violation of one or more of Arizona’s laws.   

Mikitish released an order late Thursday agreeing with several of the 32 specific objections put forth by AFEC. The effect of the judge’s ruling is that nearly 97,000 signatures will be knocked off, which puts the Act in jeopardy as the verification process continues. With a typically high sampling rejection rate, there will likely be too few verified signatures to move the Act to the ballot.

“Based on the random sample that is currently being conducted, we believe they will fall short of the minimum to qualify for the ballot by more than 10,000,” according to AFEC President Scot Mussi.

In his ruling, Mikitish noted that Arizona law calls for the constitutional and statutory requirements imposed on initiative efforts to “be strictly construed.” He added that strict compliance is defined in case law as “nearly perfect compliance” even if there will be “harsh consequences” due to a seemingly small “unfortunate mistake.”

The judge held a two-day evidentiary hearing on Aug. 15-16 and received dozens of written arguments from the parties on whether the numerous challenged circulators complied with state law.

AFEC contends the provision of the proposed AFFE Act will “upend” Arizona’s election administration and voter registration laws, curtail current safeguards with the initiative and referendum process, and reduce candidate contribution limits while promoting more taxpayer subsidies to certain candidates.

READ MORE ABOUT THE CHALLENGE HERE

GOP Legislator Tells All: $18 Billion Budget Will ‘Bankrupt’ State, Leadership ‘Bought’ Dems with $6 Billion

GOP Legislator Tells All: $18 Billion Budget Will ‘Bankrupt’ State, Leadership ‘Bought’ Dems with $6 Billion

By Corinne Murdock |

With one week to go before the end of the fiscal year, the Arizona legislature managed to reconcile enough differences to pass a finalized version of the budget. However, Republican legislators opposed to the historic $18 billion budget have reported that the controlling party made the budget more palatable for members across the aisle rather than those of their own party. 

Although Democratic legislators initially expressed great frustration about the budget, it appears that they may have feigned their opposition — the overwhelming majority of Democrats voted for the budget. 

State Representative Jacqueline Parker (R-Mesa) was one of the legislators that voted against the budget. In a Thursday interview with “Conservative Circus,” Parker talked openly about the backdoor proceedings that went on over the last week, claiming that GOP leadership and Governor Doug Ducey gave Democrats what they wanted at the cost of Arizonans’ best interests.

All throughout Thursday’s voting, Parker offered updates on floor proceedings. She noted the shared levity between the Republicans and Democrats as the total expenditures added up with each bill passed.

Parker also noted that the budget received near-unanimous support from Democrats — unique, since Democrats normally have opposed past Republican-majority budgets. 

Contrary to assurances from House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) that the budget would enable the state to “weather the storm” of a future recession, Parker said that the budget provisions would bankrupt the state in a recession.

“Spending is colossal, there are no massive tax cuts, and it’s exceeding our actual fiscal revenues. We’re looking at, probably, future bankruptcy as a recession comes forward,” said Parker. 

Parker said that several others brought these concerns to Republican leadership prior to floor votes, but that they were ignored. The representative reported that the leaders were more interested in pleasing Democrats than with working out a conservative budget.

“Leadership essentially just said, ‘It’s easier to just go buy Democrats,’” recounted Parker. “They bought them to the tune of six billion more dollars.”

Although school choice advocates touted the universal expansion of the state’s Empowerment Account Scholarship (ESA) Program, Parker reported that Governor Doug Ducey subverted those efforts. Parker said that she and other unnamed legislators received a 2 am call warning that the ESA expansion came with a “poison pill” from the Ninth Floor. 

“Ducey has made an agreement with the Democrats that if they don’t refer the ESA bill to the ballot or challenge it in court within the 90 day period, they’re going to extend the aggregate expenditure limit forever, indefinitely,” said Parker.

Parker warned that this secret deal would lead to education expenditures that would break past the 50 percent limit and possibly take over the entire budget.

One of the contentious aspects of the budget was the expansion of homeless shelters throughout Arizona suburbs. State Representative Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale), another one of the lone Republicans who opposed the budget alongside Parker, lamented that the budget policies would turn the state into another California. 

Another was the tax credits to entice the film industry to come to the state. The last similar tax credit program bled the state of millions of dollars leading up to the 2008 recession. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.