The head of a local campaign finance reform initiative drive has accused a tobacco company lobbyist of trying to give his campaign a "poison pill" in the form of a $5,000 contribution.
The lobbyist--Phoenix-based attorney John Mangum, who represents Phillip Morris--denies ever making the offer and in return accuses Arizonans for Clean Elections campaign manager Josh Silver of spreading mistruths to drum up publicity for the reform initiative.
Mangum and Silver have never met and have only spoken on the phone once, but there's no love lost between the two.
Mangum on Silver: "I don't have a whole lot of faith in the guy's integrity."
Silver on Mangum: "He's full of shit."
In a letter dated May 13, Silver wrote to Mangum: "Arizonans for Clean Elections will not accept the $5,000 contribution you offered us because we have recently obtained evidence which shows that your motivation is to poison our campaign with your special interest tobacco money. That is exactly the kind of special interest backroom game playing that Clean Elections hopes to end."
Mangum insists he never received the letter from Silver, but first learned about it from a reporter in the state capitol press room. Silver says he faxed the letter to Mangum's office May 13.
The back and forth on the topic of the alleged campaign contribution dates back to March 2, when Silver says he received a call from Mangum's secretary informing him that Mangum had arranged a $5,000 donation from Phillip Morris.
"She noted that [Republican state] Rep. Mike Gardner and [Utah-based consultant] Rodger Bailey were also behind giving us the contribution," Silver wrote in the May 13 letter. "A contribution from a major tobacco company to a campaign finance reform initiative smelled fishy, and as you recall, I spoke with you three days later and asked you how you had learned about Arizonans for Clean Elections, and why you had arranged the contribution.
"You told me that Representative Gardner had asked you to arrange the donation. I should note that Louis Rhodes, former executive director of the AZ-ACLU was in the office with me and corroborates the details of the phone calls. Arizonans for Clean Elections did not take the contribution because of the ambiguous nature of tobacco money funding a reform effort."
Mangum acknowledges that he spoke to Silver, but recalls the conversation differently.
He says, "As we are wont to do [after receiving a request for a donation], before we make any recommendations, we want to know what the initiative does and who is running it. We called Josh Silver's office and asked for a little description of what the initiative was. Three days later Josh called here and talked to me and I said, 'Josh, what is your initiative? What are you trying to accomplish?' He told me and I said, 'We're simply not interested in that one.' End of discussion. No contribution was ever requested from Phillip Morris. No contribution was ever received by Josh. No other contact or follow-up was ever made by Josh 'til that letter was dropped off in the press room."
Mangum says his office did receive a request from a third party (no one associated with Arizonans for Clean Elections) for Phillip Morris to donate money to Arizonans for Clean Elections, but he does not recall who made the request. He acknowledges that it could have been Gardner or Bailey. (Gardner denies making the request; he says he asked for money to fund a different effort, but never received any. Repeated attempts to reach Bailey at his Ogden, Utah, office were unsuccessful.)
If Gardner or Bailey did make such a request, that's surprising, given a memo (provided to New Times by Silver) from Bailey to a group of Arizona lobbyists including Mangum and copied to, among others, Gardner. The undated memo--on the topic of Arizonans for Clean Elections--says, "Another group has formed with the intent to run its own 'election reform' initiative next fall. As you can see from the enclosed material, their concept of clean elections--vis-a-vis the 'Tucson Model'--makes the Voter Protection Act look acceptable. However, what is more concerning than their election reform concepts is that this group claims to have a $500,000 + commitment from George Soros [the philanthropist who supported Arizona's successful medical marijuana initiative in 1996] to run the effort."
Silver says the memo is evidence of his theory. "If you look at the way these guys operate, they're going to do whatever they can to maintain the status quo, and certainly clean elections, as indicated by that memo, is a threat to the status quo," he says. "It's hard to undermine a group like us, because we're immensely popular. So the only thing that I can surmise is that they've got to get creative, to figure out a way to poison the well."
The Arizonans for Clean Elections initiative would require participating candidates to raise $5 contributions from a proportional number of voters who sign nominating petitions.
If a candidate sticks to voluntary spending limits (a legislative candidate can collect $2,000, a gubernatorial candidate, $40,000), he will qualify for matching funds--up to three times the original amount--if he's targeted by an independent expenditure campaign or a nonparticipant.
Funding sources include a $5 voluntary income-tax check-off that triggers a $5 tax credit; increased fees on lobbyists; and a 10 percent surcharge on criminal and civil fines and penalties.
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Mangum says he's spoken about Silver's letter and its allegations to a number of local reporters; as of Monday, no one else had written about it.
"Everybody else has talked to the alleged participants, received the same information that you have received and concluded that perhaps what's happening here is you have an initiative that has some problems and they're trying to generate a little free publicity," Mangum says.
Arizonans for Clean Elections has until July 2 to collect the 160,000 signatures required to qualify for November's ballot. As of Monday, Silver says, the group had 120,000 signatures.
Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: email@example.com