By Ray Stern
Arizona Republican Party chairman Randy Pullen's October 31 response to state election officials fails to offer any good explanation for why he accepted a $105,000 donation without a list of donors.
And as for revealing any of the men or women behind the mysterious Sheriff's Command Association that made the donation -- yeah, right.
In the letter, Pullen (pictured) merely rehashes his earlier excuses -- that he knew he needed the names of the people behind the SCA, that he asked the front man for the group, "Mr." Joel Fox (a Maricopa County Sheriff's Captain) repeatedly for a list of names, and that he filed an official campaign finance report without the names because he figured he would just amend the report later.
None of that seems to get him or the party off the hook for a serious campaign finance law violation. At best, the letter only raises more questions about the source of the dirty money, some of which was used to fund an R-rated smear ad on TV about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's political opponent, Dan Saban.
As the letter shows, the first conclusive date Pullen pulls out of the air for when he asked SCA to provide some names is September 29. But the Republican Party's post-primary campaign finance report shows the money was accepted much earlier: $80,000 on August 21, and $25,000 on September 10.
Pullen says the party requested the names of the donors behind SCA and "were assured we would receive them." They asked again on September 29 and "were told it was coming."
On October 2, the due date for the post-primary report, Pullen and crew "asked again." With no response, the party decided to file its report late to give the generous benefactors a few more days to cough up some names of donors. Finally, on October 6, Pullen writes that he decided to call "Mr." Joel Fox.
Pullen doesn't inform the state whether he knew all along "Mr." Fox was really "Captain" Fox. But even weirder -- if this was the first time he called Fox, who was the Republican Party asking about the names before then? Pullen doesn't tell.
Pullen apparently wants people to think he's a gullible idiot instead of a guy who got caught trying to hide a big donation.
He says he filed the finance report on October 7 believing he would amend the report later when he received the names. But think about it -- the first check had been in the bank for 48 days by then, the second check for 28 days. Pullen supposedly had asked the mystery group for names at least four times before filing the report. Yet he's asking the public and state investigators to buy the story that he believed in good faith the group would supply the names after he filed the report. The SCA would have had a harder time fooling a kindergartner, if that's true.
Pullen includes a certified letter he sent to the SCA's P.O. Box on October 9 in which he sought the donors' names. But that was after he filed the report, after the Democratic Party started to make a stink about the donation, and most importantly, after the money had been spent on its reported purpose -- to fund smear ads against Saban and Democrat Tim Nelson, who ran (and lost) against Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Pullen goes on to write that a blog comment by a Republican Party National Committeeman that the donation was made only on the promise to fund the smear ads, was "conjecture." Yet here his argument descends into the "don't-look-at-the-man-behind-the-curtain" category.
Bruce Ash, the committeeman, posted his comment on October 8 in response to another commenter on a blog site run by political consultant Nathan Sproul. Here's the quote in question from Ash's comment:
The Saban ad campaign was not done using ANY funds from AZGOP which were donated for any other cause other than the specific campaign and would not have been donated had the ad campaign not been run.
That doesn't really have the ring of "conjecture," now, does it? It reads more like a guy who knows exactly what he's talking about. Unlike Pullen, who writes in his letter to election officials:
I queried Mr. Ash as to what he was referring when he made wrote (sic) the BLOG post as certainly it was not factual. His response to me was he was referring to the accusation that Nathan Sproul had made in his story.
One thing Pullen doesn’t say is whether he asked Ash whether the information Ash put in his blog comment was true or not, or what Ash’s response might have been to the question. It seems reasonable to think that question might have come up. An e-mail sent to Ash last night by New Times has not yet been answered.
Pullen also seems to be in trouble on the transfer of money to the Arizonans for Public Safety group, which was responsible for producing and airing the smear ads.
Pullen says a quote in the Capitol Times on this subject was taken out of context ("the money ... was set aside for county races.") -- that he was referring to the $78,000 contribution to Arizonans for Public Safety, and not the donation to the Republican Party by the SCA. But take a look at the whole quote:
That was money that we essentially set aside for county races. It was not raised for legislative races, nor was anybody told that it was (for) legislative (races). I already decided what I was going to do with the money before I got the money.
“Got the money” sounds like he’s talking about, well, getting the money. From the SCA. He didn’t get the $78,000 – that’s the amount the party gave away. So his quote was in context after all.
Looks like the Republican Party is still in hot water on this thing.
Joe Kanefield, state election director, tells New Times the Secretary of State's office is reviewing Pullen's response and will make a decision soon on whether to recommend the case to the Attorney General's office for possible legal action.
Click here for a PDF copy of Pullen's entire October 31 response to the state.