A lawsuit in California could finally give voters here a chance to find out who is behind more than $1.1 million in donations to kill two ballot measures.
Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership gave $750,000 to help defeat Proposition 204 to permanently hike the state sales tax by a penny when the current temporary levy expires. And it kicked in another $415,000 against Proposition 121, to create an open primary system for all Arizona elections. But nothing in Arizona law requires the group to disclose where ITS money is coming from. Only thing is, Americans for Responsible Leadership also put $11 million into two California ballot campaigns, one on a tax hike and the other about who can donate to candidates. And THAT state requires nonprofits like this to list names. So on Thursday, the California Fair Political Practices Commission filed suit, asking a judge to force the organization to disclose the information. Commission chair Ann Ravel said quick action is needed.
"The election is a little over a week away and people are voting already," Ravel said. "And so for people to be able to know when they go to vote who's actually participating and interested in influencing campaigns in California."
The organization hired a California attorney to fight the move. Brad Benbrook is asking that the demand for documents be quashed, at least in part because he said there is a -- quote -- legitimate interest that donors to non-profits have in maintaining their privacy. And he argued that there is no evidence that the list needs to be made public. That goes to the peculiarity of California law. Ravel explained that the statutes there are primarily designed to protect contributors to nonprofit organizations.
"Some of those donors do not realize that the money is going for a political purpose," she said. "The intended it to go for maybe information to the public about heart disease or whatever. So the way it was written was to put people on notice."
But Ravel said the beneficiary is the public who gets to find out the real sources. She said that's why the commission went to court to seek the disclosure order. If her group is successful in getting the books, that could give the public a peek at who are the major donors for the ballot campaigns in both states. In Arizona, state Treasurer Doug Ducey, who is heading the anti-204 effort, said he has all the information he needs.
"I know this money is coming from private citizens and businesses that are against this sales tax increase and they think it will hurt our economy," Ducey said.
And Ducey sidestepped the question of whether voters have a right to know the underlying source of the money he is using to try to quash the ballot measure.
"The source of these dollars is Americans for Responsible Leadership," he said. "If you want more detail or information beyond that, that really is a question for Americans for Responsible Leadership."
Records on file at the Arizona Corporation Commission list Robert Graham and Eric Wnuck as incorporators. Graham owns RG Capital, a Scottsdale-based investment advisory firm. He also is trying to become the new chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. Wnuck is an unsuccessful candidate for Congress. Ducey, who said he solicited the group for the money, said the current board also includes Kirk Adams, the former speaker of the Arizona House and, like Wnuck, an unsuccessful congressional candidate. Calls to Graham, Wnuck and Adams were not returned.