Brnovich Withdraws Opinion on Public Resources and Elections

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has withdrawn his May 4 opinion regarding the use of public resources in elections following intense criticism.

A link to the opinion now returns a message of the withdrawal, and Brnovich's office issued a public statement about it today:

"Attorney General Brnovich takes the allegations that the previously issued opinion may have provided an opportunity for potential government abuse very seriously. Like those who requested the original opinion, our office has a responsibility to protect the taxpayer dollars of hardworking Arizonans. The original opinion offered by this office was intended to preserve the First Amendment right of elected officials who educate the public on ballot measures. This office remains committed to defending their right to free speech."

The opinion, which allowed elected officials to use public resources and money — to a limited extent — for influencing elections, came after Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery asked Brnovich if they could continue to mention their feeling about legalization as part of their ongoing marijuana "education" programs. The Republican county attorneys, staunch opponents of legalization, have been attending debates and conducting other campaign-like actions to oppose a planned 2016 ballot measure that would like legalize marijuana in Arizona for adults 21 and older.

As New Times detailed in an article on Wednesday, the efforts included Polk's getting $50,000 transferred from money seized in forfeiture cases to a Prescott-area nonprofit organization that has been railing against the alleged ills of legalization.

Polk acknowledged to New Times in an e-mail on Thursday that the money helped MATFORCE bring nationally-known marijuana prohibitionist Kevin Sabet to a conference in April of 2014. Polk also aided the group's efforts to have various groups and government councils sign a resolution opposing Colorado-style marijuana legalization.

Ryan Anderson of the Attorney General's Office says Brnovich wants his agency to be as "transparent" and "accountable" as possible.

"We're not afraid to look introspectively ... fix things if they need to be fixed," Anderson says.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern