Feathered Bastard

Anti-Russell Pearce Group Sends LD 18 Mailer, Fails to Register with Secretary of State (w/Updates)

In what looks like a less-than-smooth move by Democrats someone apparently attempting to help Republican Jerry Lewis' challenge of state Senate President Russell Pearce in the Legislative District 18 recall, a group incorporated as "Citizens United for Progress" has sent out pro-Lewis, anti-Pearce mailers without registering first with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. (Note: See addendum below.)

The mailers announce that "Olivia Cortes Is No Longer a Candidate for Senate," and then go on to diss Pearce and praise Lewis at length. 

The Arizona Corporation Commission lists local attorney Steven A. Hirsch as the statutory agent for the group. Hirsch, a partner with the law firm Bryan Cave, has donated money to Democratic candidates heretofore.

Today, state Elections Director Amy Chan sent out a letter to Hirsch asking for more information about CUP and telling Hirsch the group needs to register as an independent expenditure committee with the AZ SOS, in order to get right with the law. 

You can see the letter and the mailers, here.

"We're looking for them to come into compliance before we refer [the matter] to the [Arizona Attorney General's] office," SOS spokesman Matt Roberts informed me.

Via e-mail, he added, "Quite often these groups forget to register or file their notifications with our office."

Though I appreciate the effort to inform voters on the one hand, on the other, this is the last thing those opposed to Pearce need in the media at the moment.

First off, not registering with the SOS is a misstep that Pearce and right-wing blogs supporting him will use to cloud the issue of Olivia Cortes' sham candidacy and the Pearce camp's other shenanigans in the race.

Second, calling it "Citizens United for Progress," and giving it a Tempe mailing address is equally misguided. 

I've received e-mails from pro-Lewis Republicans in Mesa describing the mailer in general and complaining that this is just the sort of thing that's red meat for Pearce loyalists.

The word "progress" alone is anathema to GOPers schooled by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. And the Tempe address will add fuel to Pearce's contention that "outsiders" are supporting Lewis.

Pearce spoke of this mailer in passing on KTAR 92.3 FM's Jay Lawrence Show Sunday night, and the mailer earned a mention by one speaker at a pro-Pearce rally Friday evening, held at a Mesa baseball stadium.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to help defeat Pearce in LD 18. It's a cause that Arizonans of all political stripes can get together on.

And as IE's cannot coordinate with a candidate's campaign, perhaps Hirsch and CUP's director Justin Tash were not clued in to the realities of recall politics in Mesa.

Nevertheless, they should know better than to hand the Pearce camp a political blunderbuss with just 22 days to go before Election Day. It wouldn't surprise me one iota to see this incident turned into a TV attack ad aimed at Lewis. 

It behooves us all to think before acting in the current conflict. Use your brains, people. And keep your eyes on the prize: Pearce's permanent exile from Arizona politics.

Addendum: Given that things are not always as they appear in this recall election, I should take some of my own advice, and not "assume," because, well, you know the rest of that ditty.

I put in a call to Mr. Hirsch, but have yet to hear back from him. Also, just because he's given to Dems in the past doesn't necessarily explain his motives here.

Nor do I yet know anything about Justin Tash or his motives.

The state and county Dems have generally kept the recall at arms length. And for good reason. 

Could the mailers be a ploy by pro-Pearce forces? I guess anything's possible, though I think it would be strange for them to remind voters that Cortes is not a candidate, despite her name still being on the ballot.

Also the anti-Pearce info on the fliers seems played pretty straight to be a Pearce ploy. Ditto the pro-Lewis info. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

In any case, more when I get it.

UPDATE OCTOBER 19, 2:12PM: The address listed above for Citizens United for Progress is a UPS box at the ASU Campus. A UPS rep told me that the Lemon Street location does accept mail for CUP.

There is a Justin Tash listed as an undergrad at ASU, and I have sent him an e-mail asking to speak with him.

I spoke with attorney Steven Hirsch, who said he will be representing CUP in regards to the letter sent out by the SOS. He said he didn't know a Justin Tash, and that he had been approached by someone else for help in setting up CUP as a 501c4 non-profit.

Hirsch said he could not give me the name of the person who secured his services, but that he would ask his client if they wished to talk with me.

I'll update this post further when I have more to report.

UPDATE OCTOBER 20, 5:39PM: The Associated Press has reported that the SOS has referred an issue regarding one of the mailers sent out by CUP to the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

SOS spokesman Matt Roberts told me just now that the SOS is concerned that one mailer, announcing that Olivia Cortes is no longer an official candidate, is deceptively labeled and made to look as if it came from Maricopa County Elections.

They have a point, though, in general, I don't see anything wrong with advising LD 18 voters that Cortes has pulled out. Actually, though neither county elections nor the SOS is required to mail out such a statement, I believe they should as Cortes' name being on the ballot is itself deceptive.

Nevertheless, these mailers are slippery on several levels. Roberts said the SOS has yet to receive a reply on its letter of inquiry to CUP attorney Steven Hirsch.

As Oblivious Cortex recently pointed out below, the Arizona Republic has reported that Hirsch is involved in another organization, American Citizens United, which has been accused of similar shenanigans on behalf of Phoenix GOP mayoral candidate Wes Gullett.

That matter has also been turned over to the AG's office by the SOS. 

Perhaps Hirsch, or whoever he's working for, is baiting a legal challenge to what non-profits can and cannot do. I just wish he'd have stuck to pro-Gullett efforts. Gullett is going to lose, big time. I could care less what some group does for him.

But I take the Lewis-Pearce election personally, and I'd prefer it if the sleaze in that race remains on Pearce's side of the fence.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons