Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is there a level playing field in Phoenix elections? By Jon C. Altmann - Phoenix Neighborhood Advocate

Is there a level playing field in Phoenix elections?

By Jon C. Altmann
Phoenix Neighborhood Advocate

This year’s Phoenix City Council elections have seen independent expenditures efforts have come under scrutiny by the Phoenix City Clerk and the Arizona Secretary of State. In one case, the Secretary of State is now asking the Arizona Attorney General to move forward with investigating a possible violation of Arizona’s campaign finance laws. In an effort to level that playing field, I am one of those who filed an inquiry with the City Clerk questioning some of those “independent” expenditures.

Arizona Citizens United did both attack pieces as well as support pieces in council races and the mayor’s race. Unfortunately, they may be harming the candidates they are supporting. Possible violations of the Arizona campaign finance laws only raise eyebrows, not necessarily voter support.

A lot of focus is on the Council District 1 race, pitting veteran Thelda Williams against newcomer Eric Frederick. Frederick is the latest so-called “Tea Party” candidate in the District 1 race.

The Tea Party’s batting record in Council District 1 is abysmal. Early this year, its previous favorite candidate, Gary Whalen, withdrew from the August election after an assault charge came to light. Whalen also showed up on Memorial Day at the National Cemetery and somehow had himself announced as “representing Council District 1” when in fact he was only a candidate, not a city official. Frederick has now been exposed with a host of financial issues, Failure To Appear charge for a traffic ticket and a poor voting record.

Two types of Independent groups seem to hover in Council races – one with an ax to grind and the other trying to educate voters. The latest group rising to the occasion is the Phoenix Property Rights Coalition who is overtly supporting Frederick. This group used to be a registered Independent Expenditure, but on January 28, 2011, they filed with the City Clerk to disband their independent effort (PAC 09-35 in City Clerk records).

Their ax to grind was the building of a LDS Temple in the Northwest Valley and any council member who voted for the zoning. The Constitution guarantees churches Freedom of Religion, which means zoning rules are trumped by Constitutional rights. The other old saying, everyone wants a church or fire station in their neighborhood, just no one wants to live next to one.

The Coalition must have forgotten they filed to stop, because they are still going. Email newsletters they issued on October 2 and October 16th are promoting Council District 1 candidate Eric Frederick. The newsletters have pitched his fund raiser, advertising for campaign volunteers and have a headline “Working to Insure Thelda Gets Some Rest.” Aside from their grammatical headline error, are they at the least dancing on the Arizona campaign finance laws or at the most just blatantly violating the law?

There is no political disclaimer on the newsletters and no City Clerk filing.

The Coalition and its leader, Scott Anderson, cannot say they are naïve of the law. The Coalition had paid both a major Phoenix law firm and an established political consulting firm to help it in the past. This begs the question – why doesn’t the Coalition simply know better, or is ignoring the law?

The Coalition masthead states it is supported by the Little Deer Valley Homeowners Association and the Saddleback Homeowners Association (HOA). Unlike practically all Arizona HOAs, neither is incorporated (verified by a check of Arizona Corporation Commission records). Practically all HOAs have in their constitution and by-laws statements saying they are staying out of politics, mostly to preserve their not for profit IRS status. Since the HOAs are not incorporated there is no posting of their corporate documents, nor is there any website for the groups.

The Saddleback Homeowners Association mailing address is that of Scott Anderson’s house. Anderson is also the chairman of the Phoenix Property Rights Coalition PAC. There is no other record of the association or any other officers or representatives. Is this an association of one person? Can Anderson both be the principle officer of a HOA that “supports” the Coalition and be the Coalition PAC leader?

As a Phoenix voter and long-time neighborhood issues advocate, I have already filed one inquiry with the City Clerk on campaign finance issues and that has now resulted in the Arizona Secretary of State referring that inquiry to the Arizona Attorney General for investigation of campaign finance law violations.

The Phoenix Property Rights Coalition is trying to fly the banner of being a neighborhood association, but its actions raise the question as if it is just another special interest group running to the aid of a council candidate that is already on the skids for questions on finances and voting history.

Freedom of speech in a political race is a right, but we also have laws so all can know who is spending money in these races. While freedom of speech is a right, it is not without the responsibility to be forthright as to who is exactly is speaking and who is paying for the soap box platform there are broadcasting from.

The opinion and analysis provided are those of Jon C. Altmann. Jon
is a public safety consultant, an advocate for veterans related issues and since 1987, has been active on civic and neighborhood issues in Phoenix and Scottsdale.

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