Secretary of State Finds "Reasonable Cause" to Believe Arizona GOP Broke the Law

By Sarah Fenske

The Arizona Secretary of State has found "reasonable cause" to believe the Arizona Republican Party broke the law by accepting $105,000 in contributions from a high ranking member of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's staff.

The finding came last week, according to public records obtained by New Times, and the complaint was then forwarded to the staff of Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, thus initiating an investigation.

The initial probe came at the request of the Arizona Democratic Party, after state GOP officials publicly linked the mysterious $105,000 in donations with slimy attack ads targeting Democrats Dan Saban and Tim Nelson. The ads were outrageous -- TV stations were forced to pull them after receiving complaints -- and political observers were stunned when the state Republican party failed to disclose any source of the six-figure donation beyond the acronym "SCA."

The attorney for the Arizona Republican Party, Lee Miller, later admitted to the Capitol Times that SCA stood for "Sheriff's Command Association." State Party Chairman Randy Pullen (pictured) also told the newspaper that he'd received the $105,000 check from the commander of the sheriff's own SWAT team, Joel Fox.

Democrats alleged that the GOP then funneled the money to pay for the sleazy ads, which were designed to attack the guy challenging Fox's boss, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And that raises a series of legal (and ethical) questions. After all, independent expenditures like the one funding the nasty ads cannot be coordinated with a campaign -- yet here was one of Arpaio's top staffers allegedly involved with the financing. Plus, one whistleblower alleged that another top aide to Arpaio, Chief Deputy David Hendershott, attempted to shop the allegations in the ad to him earlier this year.

Beyond that, knowingly accepting a contribution made by one person in the name of another is a class 6 felony, as State Election Director Joe Kanefield wrote to the attorney's general office last Wednesday. Theoretically, if Randy Pullen accepted money from Fox knowing that it had come from other individuals, he could be in trouble.

In his referral memo, Kanefield refused to go that far. "This is a criminal provision and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State," he wrote. "Nevertheless, we believe there is insufficient evidence to find reasonable cause to believe the Arizona Republican Party knowingly accepted a contribution made in the name of another." As evidence, Kanefield cites the fact that the party attempted to get a donor list from Fox -- and returned the money when he refused to comply.

The Secretary of State's investigation was cursory, at best. Kanefield also rejected the Democrats' contention that Fox's six-figure donation was "earmarked" for county races. (That would also be a violation of law.) While one Republican committeeman alleged that in a blog, Kanefield wrote, the party disputes it -- and that's apparently enough to file the complaint under "insufficient information ... to find reasonable cause to believe that a violation of [the law] occurred."

But, to Secretary of State Jan Brewer's credit, at least the office didn't dismiss the complaint. Brewer, of course, is herself a Republican, and yet the office has referred the complaint to Attorney General Goddard (a Democrat) for potential violations of the law. Not bad.

It will be interesting to see how Goddard's office handles the matter. The Democratic Party complaint raises some serious questions that have yet to be answered, and Goddard shouldn't even think about closing out this complaint without questioning sheriff's office employees from Hendershott on down. After all, just because the GOP returned the money to Commander Fox doesn't mean there was no damage -- tens of thousands of Arizona residents had to watch the stupid anti-Saban ad, and no slap on the wrist could make up for that kind of torture.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske