Thanks to George's willingness to spend, two Democratic candidates could ultimately enjoy twice the funding of their Republican rivals — courtesy of public money.

Kind of fishy, eh? But the Clean Elections Commission tells me it's totally legal.

"That's not a problem at all," says Mike Becker, the commission's voter-education manager. "The only stipulation that exists is that each candidate has to write a check directly to their vendors" — even if they're collaborating on advertising.

Samuel George, back when he was Sam Vagenas, in this photo from a 1996 New Times story.
Erin Wile
Samuel George, back when he was Sam Vagenas, in this photo from a 1996 New Times story.

That sounds crazy to me. I don't care that it's legal. It completely violates the spirit of the law. (Or, at least, what we thought was the spirit. Considering that Vagenas/George helped to write the thing, who knows whether these loopholes were intentional?!)

Kelty, to her credit, didn't bite. She tells me that she declined George's offer to run as a team because she was concerned about mixing Clean Elections funding with a privately funded candidate.

So George went out and formed a team with two candidates: Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman. Both former state legislators, he's now a county supervisor in Cochise County. And though they're likable, their biggest plus may be names that would look fabulous on a road sign.

And then Kennedy's backers tried to get Kelty kicked off the ballot.

Records show that a Phoenix voter named Thomas Murphy filed a lawsuit challenging Kelty's petitions. Both Murphy and the lawyer handling the suit, Tucson attorney David Karnas, have donated the maximum amount permissible to Sandra Kennedy's campaign.

Karnas initially took my call and told me that he didn't know Murphy personally — and that he, Karnas, had no ax to grind in the race. He says Murphy contacted his firm only because he specializes in this type of work.

So why did Murphy file the suit, I asked. "He is politically, philosophically, and legally opposed to Kara Kelty," Karnas said. Yikes. When pressed, Karnas promised to contact his client to find out more.

Before we could reconnect, I discovered something interesting: Karnas has a history with Sandra Kennedy's campaign manager, Steve Brittle. In fact, Karnas filed more than 90 lawsuits on Brittle's behalf, according to a long-ago profile in the Phoenix Business Journal.

When I called Karnas back with that information, he didn't return my calls.

For the record, Sandra Kennedy says she knows absolutely nothing about this and had no idea that her campaign manager had a history of working with the lawyer who filed the suit against her opponent.

Regardless, the suit has been dropped. As Karnas admits, the challengers realized that even if all the "questionable" petitions were thrown out, Kelty would still have enough signatures to make the ballot.

What, they couldn't figure that out before filing their suit? I have to wonder whether they were hoping Kelty would just roll over and go back to Flagstaff, where the weather is nice.

Instead, she got Andy Gordon, of the super-connected Democratic firm Coppersmith Gordon Schermer & Brockelman, to take the case pro bono.

That makes me think there are other Democrats who aren't so thrilled about this kind of chicanery. That's a really good thing.

Since they couldn't kick Kara Kelty off the ballot, it's unclear whether Sam Vagenas/Samuel George can still execute his plan to triple his Clean Elections funding for his "team." After all, it's not just his team in the race — Kelty will also get an infusion of cash if George spends wildly.

One of these four candidates is not going to make it to the general election.


Presidential politics aside, there's no election more important to Arizona this fall than the three seats being contested on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

You can blame Al Gore for that. Now that "climate change" is a global buzzword, everyone is in a tizzy to do something to stop carbon emissions. And, as any realist will tell, the power to do something is largely not in the hands of individuals. Whether or not you believe in global warming, it's an undeniable fact: If we're serious about reducing carbon emissions, we've got to reduce our reliance on coal-burning power plants.

The corporation commission, despite being composed of Republicans ostensibly less inclined to do something, heard the siren call. They enacted rules mandating that Arizona utilities derive at least 15 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2025.

That's going to cost consumers, unquestionably. APS has already slapped a surcharge onto its customers' bills; other utilities are sure to follow.

It could also cost the only incumbent running for re-election this fall. Barry Wong voted to enact the renewable standards. Now he'll have to defend that vote in a Republican primary chock-full of candidates, some of them hostile to the very idea of global warming.

The libertarian Goldwater Institute has filed a lawsuit questioning whether the commission has the right to set the standards. And some of the Republican candidates have vowed to repeal them — even as some of the Democratic candidates call them "baby steps" and threaten to take the requirement further.

This election matters.

And that's why I find this whole Samuel George/Sam Vagenas thing so unsettling.

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12 comments
Oscar
Oscar

I was this guy's college roommate. He was tw--faced, abusive, manipulative, played mind games, etc. It is a main factor in me dropping out.

Anthem
Anthem

Vagenas has already spent nearly half-a-million dollars of his own money in TV ads in an attempt to fool Arizona voters into voting for him and his "team."

Scott K
Scott K

Sarah, Thank you so very much for this story. It makes me sick to see this weaselly game, but it gives me hope that there are honest reporters who will go out of their way to expose corruption, no matter which side of the spectrum sponsors it. Man, I do hope AZ voters wake up in time, though.

Sue
Sue

The Tucson Citizen's editorial board exposed Vagenas for who he is, and quoted the New Times. Please keep this up - the so-called mainstream media is dropping the ball. Vagenas is now buying TV ads - apparently he hopes to buy his way into this office. He is loathed by Republicans and Democrats alike - rightly so. Let's hope Democrats reject him on Sept. 2.

JP
JP

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon supports this guy. God help us!

Susan Di Staulo
Susan Di Staulo

I have known Samuel George since 2003. I assure you there is NO ONE more nobel, kindhearted, compassionate, giving, and honorable. He truly believes, with all his heart, that global warming needs to be addressed with action and concern.His intellect is strong, his knowledge expansive, and his character valiant and sincere. Any attempt you make to impugn his credibility is for naught.

James Bailey
James Bailey

Given the articles that have appeared in the New Times relating to water law, why would you call the activities of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District "a Snooze," Doesn't that board also have some decision making control over future nuclear power plant(s)?

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Sarah, once again, great investigative work to inform the public about who the "players" are and the importance of this position. Boy George won't get my vote.Will send this article around so others be better informed before they vote. the cheap shot comment above, confirms you hit the nail on the head with this valuable information in an informative article.

Dishes It But Can't Take It
Dishes It But Can't Take It

So a certain right-leaning columnist can heap scorn on her targets but what happens when someone takes a shot at her? The comment gets disappeared from the New Times site. Guess that's one of the perks of bedding the boss.

Howard M.
Howard M.

Are Arizona Democrats so greedy for campaign money that they would tolerate a douche-bag like Vagenas?

Matt S.
Matt S.

As the former deputy director of Clean Elections, I find it completely disturbing that someone would, apparently, overtly attempt to game the system.

 
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