An independent law firm investigating whether a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office commander illegally funneled money to the Arizona Republican Party is demanding that the commander produce a list of donors by December 1.
But, in a letter to that investigator, Commander Joel Fox (pictured above) insists he's done nothing wrong -- and needn't turn over anything.
To date, sheriff's Commander Fox is the only person who's been publicly linked to the shadowy SCA, or Sheriff's Command Association, which donated $105,000 to the Arizona Republican Party just before the fall election.
Democrats complained that the money had been collected illegally, and argued that it was used to finance a pair of slimy ads targeting opponents of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. The party insisted that the money didn't pay for the commercials -- but it was forced to return the donation after Fox refused to cough up a list of donors.
Now Fox is refusing to provide that information to the independent law firm investigating the group on behalf of the Maricopa County Recorder. (The County Attorney's Office, which would normally investigate the matter, had to recuse itself because of the allegation involving Thomas.)
In an undated letter to the investigator, attorney Jeffrey Messing, Commander Fox insisted that his group is not a political action committee.
"The purpose of this account was to address the constant battering of Deputies, Detention Officers and employees of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office by the media," Fox wrote. "It was my intent, upon establishing the fund, to address these lies with publications, advertising, or other forms of communication."
Fox doesn't say how, or why, he decided to instead make a six-figure donation to the Arizona Republican Party. But he does insist that, because the group wasn't organized with the intent of influencing elections, "there are obviously no requirements for filing campaign finance reports."
That's certainly not how attorney Messing sees it.
"Your assertion that SCA is not a political committee because it was not originally organized to influence elections ignores the language of [state law]," Messing wrote Fox on Monday. The law, Messing explained, says a political action committee is any group that is organized or "conducted" for the purpose of influencing an election -- which would clearly include any group making a six-figure donation to a political party.
"Whatever the original intent," Messing concluded, "once you made the decision to contribute SCA funds to the Arizona Republican Party, you transformed SCA into a political committee."
What that means: SCA will have to publicly disclose exactly who contributed money, and when, or face a fine of three times the amount it expended -- in this case, up to $315,000. With a fine that steep, we can't imagine Fox would continue to stall ... unless, of course, he's got some big-name donors (Hendershott? Arpaio himself?) he's desperate to hide.
Messing declined comment, other than to confirm that his investigation is ongoing. That makes two of them: As we reported last week, the Arizona Secretary of State's Office also launched an inquiry into the SCA matter, and found "probable cause" that the Arizona Republican Party had violated the law. That matter is now in the hands of Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard's office.
The Arizona Republican Party, like Fox, continues to insist that it did nothing wrong.
Kudos to the Arizona Capitol Times, which first broke this story and continues to beat much bigger media outlets -- including the Arizona Republic -- in its ongoing coverage. The paper's latest scoop is online here. -- Sarah Fenske