Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NEWS ANALYSIS: Reagan Campaign Tries To Re-Write Dark Money History (and Definition), To Avoid Denouncing Dark Money Present Benefitting Her (#50ShadesOfDarkMoney)

(Arizona's Politics is an independent, non-partisan political news blog. When we engage in analysis or commentary, we attempt to label it as such. This article may be classified as "news analysis" because it attempts to "provid(e) interpretations that add to a reader's understanding of a subject.")

The Arizona Republic's Mary Jo Pitzl has a good article up tonight, "Reagan sets conditions on renouncing 'dark money'". GOP Secretary of State nominee Michele Reagan is trying to avoid denouncing a $304,000 dark money ad benefiting her candidacy.

Reagan (and/or her campaign manager) are now saying "after you", and trying to make her renunciation of the Sean Noble-linked 60 Plus Association come only after Democratic nominee Terry Goddard denounces a 2010 ad campaign.

However, there are several misleading and incorrect aspects to Reagan's new condition. Arizona's Politics was the first to report on the 2010 campaign shenanigans that Reagan is raising tonight, and is in a good position to add some history and some context, as well as to point out the distinctions between then and now.

According to the Pitzl article, Reagan's campaign manager believes that the 2010 "Committee for Justice and Fairness" expenditure in the Attorney General's race was dark money and that "Goddard needs to explain his inaction."


The 2010 expenditure in question was in the Attorney General's race between Felecia Rotellini and Tom Horne. It was a particularly nasty - and misleading - ad attacking Horne (who was Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time).

The ads were only identified as being from the "Committee For Justice and Fairness", and did not identify major contributors. On October 22, Arizona's Politics published an article noting that "CJF" was wholly funded by the Democratic Attorneys General Association, and that the ads appeared to violate Arizona election laws.

A follow-up article, "If There's Justice & Fairness, There Will Also Be Irony; Democratic AGs' Group Could Be Hit Hard, Too", detailed how a complaint from Horne would first go to the Secretary of State, before being referred to then-AG Goddard. We noted that Goddard would have a conflict of interest because he was a member of DAGA, and would refer it to an independent prosecutor.

The final pre-election article of note was the Thursday before Election Day, October 28. We noted that the ball was hit into Goddard's court that afternoon, and that he had 20 days to make a determination. The article added that he should "immediately" transfer it to an independent prosecutor. (If he had transferred it that day or the next day, there would be even less of a story today.)

Arizona's Politics continued - and, continues - to cover CJF/DAGA's apparent blatant disregard of Arizona's (already-lax) election law. On the 2010 election day, for example, Arizona's Politics reported that the Arizona Democrats had "co-opted" the CJF/DAGA claims and that that could play into legal action. Horne did claim coordination between Rotellini and CJF/DAGA, but that went nowhere and it was Horne who has been found to have illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure group.


Reagan, through Campaign Manager Kyle Moyer, made a couple of very key misrepresentations. Whether innocently or purposefully, they need to be addressed:

1) The money used to fund the CJF ad against Horne was NOT "dark money", even if CJF violated Arizona law. As evidenced by the articles cited above, the source of the funds for the ad were identifiable. Any CJF filing in Arizona would not have shown the source of the funds, it simply would have listed its contact information. Arizona's Politics easily located the IRS filings of both CJF and DAGA, and was able to identify contributors. (The amount CJF/DAGA sunk into the Arizona ads was NOT clear from the filings - changes making FCC filings available online would now make that task much simpler.)

Reagan's efforts to equate CJF/DAGA with the 60 Plus ad attacking Goddard and benefiting her thus falls far short of the mark. The only thing in common is that both are attack ads and both are independent expenditures. DAGA's funding is open (while questionable for its potentially-corruptible influence), while 60 Plus is the very definition of a dark money operation that also has been a conduit and recipient of other dark money (the washing machine of dark money laundering, if you will).

Over the last few years, 60 Plus has received at least $16.6M from American Encore (formerly known as the Center To Protect Patient Rights), a 501(c )(4) run by Arizona-based political consultant Sean Noble. 60 Plus has used some of that money to run ads against candidates - sometimes having little to do with the seniors' issues it is supposedly focused on - and has passed some of that on to similar organizations*.

2) Moyer dings Goddard for his "inaction". Goddard had no obligation - and, probably no inclination - to take action before the election. His office received it less than three business days before the election, and he had 20 days before action had to be taken. He should have transferred it to a non-conflicted prosecutor immediately, or within the 20 days. However, that did not prevent the complaint from being forwarded to the MCAO in January. (Neither Goddard's nor Horne's office responded to repeated efforts by Arizona's Politics to ascertain the disposition, and the latter did not announce the transfer; Arizona's Politics was later surprised when the case popped up in court in 2012.)


Whether or not Michele Reagan takes the significant step of denouncing the 60 Plus commercial benefitting her candidacy for Secretary of State is her decision; asking that it be pulled would seem to have a potential political payoff exceeding the value of yet another negative ad on TV - especially if 60 Plus complied with her demand.

But, for Reagan to avoid a denunciation by hiding behind a false equivalency claim that her opponent denounce an expenditure that did not benefit him four years ago is wrong.

* Such inter-organization "grants" are more likely designed to help entities reach their 51% "social welfare" mission than to hide already-hidden donors' identities.

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