Maricopa County Sheriff's Captain Joel Fox, still the only person to date who's been linked to a mysterious $105,000 donation to the Arizona Republican Party, took the stand today in front of Administrative Law Judge Thomas Shedden -- but instead of resolving the issue, Fox's testimony only added further confusion to the already convoluted tale.
Fox again wouldn't disclose any of his contributors. He refused to name the bank where the funds were deposited. And he certainly wouldn't concede any points on the table, including, incredibly, whether his six-figure donation to the GOP should count as a "contribution." Asked whether the money came from his "personal funds," Fox resorted to this Clintonesque chestnut: "It depends on your definition of 'personal funds.'"
Indeed, Fox repeatedly argued that he shouldn't have to testify, but also refused -- per Judge Shedden's suggestion -- to plead his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
"There is nothing incriminating here," he argued, then seemed to slip into an argument about the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from searches without a warrant: "I do have a constitutional right to be secure in my person and in my papers, and for the government to interfere with that is unconstitutional."
Fox, one of the commanders of the sheriff's SWAT team, has been fined $315,000 for making a six-figure donation to the state GOP last summer. At the time, Fox told Republican party officials that the money came from a group of unidentified individuals; when they insisted that he'd have to disclose those individuals, Fox refused and the party returned the money.
Unfortunately for Fox, there's a strong case to be made that, before returning the money, the party spent it -- sending it to a committee whose sole purpose was bankrolling a series of scuzzy ads against Democrats Dan Saban and Tim Nelson.
Saban was running against Fox's boss, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Nelson was taking on Arpaio's best buddy, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. The ads literally accused Saban of masturbating and Nelson of enabling child molesters. (We only wish we were kidding.)
But when Democrats looked to see which political action committee had funded the scurrilous ads, all they learned was that a captain in the sheriff's office had made a donation to the State GOP on behalf of a series of unnamed contributors, and that the party had then returned it. When County Attorney Thomas declared a conflict of interest thanks to the attack ad against his opponent, attorney Jeffrey Messing was assigned to look into the donation. Messing ultimately issued a $315,000 fine against Fox for failing to disclose his contributors, as required by law.
But if Fox was trying to argue that the whole affair was above board, his testimony hardly helped his cause.
In the five-hour hearing, Fox literally refused to concede any point made by Messing. He refused to concede that two checks he wrote totaling $105,000 compromised a "contribution" to the party. He wouldn't agree that the money came from individuals other than himself, even though that's something he'd previously acknowledged in correspondence with Messing.
And, despite months of back-and-forth correspondence, Fox incredibly tried to argue today that he didn't turn over the records demanded by Messing, because Fox supposedly didn't know that Messing was representing the county attorney.
"As far as I know, this letter came from the Arizona Democratic Party, or the New Times, or Dan Saban," Fox insisted. "I don't understand how I'd be held liable for not turning over my personal financial records based on a letter from an attorney -- an alleged attorney."
Messing was forced to walk Fox through a raft of correspondence contradicting his supposed confusion.
"Do you see this letter where I write I was retained as counsel 'to fullfill the function of the county attorney's office?'" Messing asked. Fox had to concede that he did. "Do you see this email to me where you wrote, 'I would also request that you clarify your participation in this case'?" Again, Fox did. "Do you see this email where I specifically responded to your request for clarification of my role?" Fox did.
But still, the denials continued. Fox admitted he'd collected money from a number of individuals, but insisted they had no idea that he'd be using the money for political purposes. "There's no evidence to suggest any other person joined in this effort after the political purpose was assigned," he argued.
Yes, we did get a monster of a headache just sitting there.
The really interesting part of the hearing, as first reported by New Times' Ray Stern yesterday, is that during the time Fox was supposedly accepting donations from anonymous individuals for a non-political purpose, he in fact had two active political action committees. Those committees were jointly run with one of his higher-ups at the sheriff's office, director Larry Black, according to testimony today. And the political action committees used the same Mesa post office box as Fox would later use for his shady "donations" to the Republican Party.
Weirdly, the two sheriff's officers claimed to collect nothing via those political committees -- and shut them down just one month before Captain Fox wrote the $105,000 checks.
Questioned about the previous political committees by New Times after the hearing, Fox said that he and Black had hoped to raise money to "do other political stuff." But, he said, "no one was ever interested in that."
So how the hell did Fox suddenly end up with $105,000 in donations? He says he wanted to put together a media campaign to defend deputies against charges of racial profiling and "killing people in the jails."
"I only told three or four people, but word spread," Fox claimed. "People wired money directly into the account." How did they get the account info, New Times asked. Again, Fox said, it spread by "word of mouth."
"The account number got spread around," he said. "I don't know. Somewhere down the road, wealthy people heard about it and donated money. The purpose is, I never intended to use it for Arpaio's campaign."
Fox added that he's never even asked his donors whether they'd mind having their identities revealed. Pretty kind of him to put himself on the hook for $315,000 in fines when he's not even sure if anyone objects to being identified, don't you think?
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One final point. If the donations were given to Fox personally, as he's tried to claim, there's some suggestion that he'd have to claim them on his tax returns. But when attorney Messing questioned him about this, Fox quickly replied that he'd never claimed the money there.
Fox told New Times after the hearing that he fully expects an IRS audit.
"I'm expecting an IRS investigation, if that's what you're asking," he said. "If they come with a subpoena and ask for my bank records, I'd be happy to comply. I have nothing to hide. There is no horrible secret. What I object to is someone using speculation and conjecture to access my private records. Hey, how about I fine you $300,000 if you don't let me look at your bank account? Isn't there a right to privacy and a right to be free from search and seizure?"
Umm, maybe not, once that money is a) gathered from a bunch of people, and then b) bundled and given to a political party. (See: Hsu, Norman.) But while Judge Shedden's process plays out over the next two months -- and yes, it will take that long for his ruling on the fine issue -- we can only hope the IRS gets on the stick. We believe we heard the phrase "happy to comply." Surely the tax guys will be happy to hear that for once.