AZ SOS: Arizona Citizens United, Backers of Mayoral Candidate Wes Gulllett, Likely Violated State Law

There is "reasonable cause" to believe that Arizona Citizens United, an independent expenditure organization that has poured more than $100,000 to ensure that Wes Gullett is Phoenix's next mayor, has violated state campaign finance laws.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett forwarded the case on October 13 to the Attorney General for "appropriate enforcement."

A spokesman for Camp Gullett, the ultimate benefactor of this organization, said that "the only campaign we are responsible for is our own."

At the heart of the matter is whether Arizona Citizens United was required to file certain documents with the City of Phoenix after it sent out mailers highlighting how elected officials voted on Phoenix's 2 percent food tax and $29 million worth of employee pay raises.

But the broader issue is whether the Attorney General's Office will take the case, and if that will in turn force the disclosure of the individuals or entities that have donated to the Arizona Citizens Fund.

As it now stands, since Arizona Citizens United formed as an Independent Expenditure Committee, which is allowed to spend corporate dollars on political campaigns. The entity isn't required to file campaign finance reports -- which details name of donors and amounts of their contributions -- because they aren't a political committee.

State law dictates that if the organization is formed "primarily for the purpose of influencing an election" and is a combination of corporations, limited liability companies or labor organizations or accepts donations/contributions, it shall file as a political committee. And those committees are required to disclosure donors' names and political donations.

Anonymous corporate donors pulling the strings behind the scenes is made possible by Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, a U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined corporations have the right to free speech, and that they can infuse money into political elections.

In Phoenix, Gullett, a founding partner in one of the largest lobbying firms in Arizona, wasn't able to come close to the $1 million he said he would raise in his campaign -- even with heavyweight clients such as the Home Builders of Central Arizona, Arizona Realtors Association and the Arizona Cardinals.

But, Arizona Citizens United and its anonymous donor(s) came through for Gullett in a big way, infusing his candidacy with more than $32,000 worth of campaign mailers, nearly $108,000 for radio spots on KFNX and KTAR and newspaper ads in the Arizona Republic.

Phoenix voters still don't know who is behind the money that gave Gullett a significant boost in the mayor's race, getting him into the November 8 election against Greg Stanton, former Deputy Attorney General and former Phoenix Councilman.

The Secretary of State believes that Arizona Citizens United failed to "properly file required documentation" with the city.

Another piece of literature sent out by ACU targeted Councilman Bryan Jeffries, who was appointed to fill a short stint on the council when Councilwoman Peggy Neely resigned to run for mayor.

It may be over for Jeffries and Neely who lost in the August primary election, but it appears  the fight is just beginning for Arizona Citizens United.

An attorney for the ACU argues that mail piece was simply stating the voting records of candidates, and as such, it wasn't an "independent expenditure" that required reporting.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett's Office wasn't buying it.

"The mailer is clearly intended as opposition to Bryan Jeffries' candidacy for Phoenix city council and as such constitutes an independent expenditure under Arizona law," State Election Director Amy Chan wrote to the Attorney General's Office. "Our office has determined there is reasonable cause to believe the ACU has violated Arizona's campaign finance status."

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo