Group behind telephone survey reveals identity

PRESCOTT - Proponents of the Taxpayer Protection Initiative no longer are in the dark about who has been conducting a telephone poll that asks questions about their effort.

On Wednesday, Jason Gisi, president of the Central Arizona Partnership, reported that his group was responsible for the poll that has had people wondering for more than a week about its origin.

But Gisi adamantly disputed the claim that the poll was an effort to sway voters against the initiative that will be on the Prescott ballot in November as to whether large city projects of $40 million or more should have to go to a vote of the people.

"The poll was not intended to influence the outcome of the election," Gisi said, noting that the organization authorized the poll before the initiative made it onto the city ballot.

Rather, Gisi said, "The poll was intended to understand the current political conditions and how they may affect the business environment."

He maintains that that distinction makes the state's election financial disclosure rules inapplicable to CAP's poll.

"I've gotten multiple legal opinions as it relates to (financial election) disclosure," Gisi said, adding that the attorneys he has talked with agree "there are no disclosure requirements."

Organizers of the Taxpayer Protection Initiative disagree, however.

This past week, the group filed a complaint with the Prescott City Attorney's office, contending that whoever was conducting the telephone poll should have first submitted the proper disclosures under Arizona election law.

Members of the initiative group termed the telephone survey a "push-poll," which they said posed the questions about the initiative in a negative way.

Committee Chairman Brad DeVries said Wednesday that he continues to believe that the poll was an effort to influence voters against the Taxpayer Protection Initiative.

"The poll was clearly intended to test the opposition arguments and to promote the opposition arguments," DeVries.

Leslie Hoy, a proponent of the initiative and one of the local residents to answer the poll's questions, agreed. Among the points of the questions, Hoy said, were claims that the initiative "is sponsored by people from out of state, it's misleading in that its real purpose is to stop the (Big Chino Water Ranch) pipeline, and it would stop all construction projects."

Added Hoy: "That poll was clearly a push-poll. I consider it an expenditure against the initiative."

Citing the League of Arizona Cities and Towns' campaign finance handbook ("Anytime two or more people work together to try to get an issue on the ballot, to recall a public official, or to influence the result of an election, they are a 'political committee' under Arizona law"), DeVries said it was clear the poll fell under state election law.

"The people in the community deserve to know who's paying for political activity," he said.

At the time of its original complaint, the Taxpayer Protection group did not know who had authorized the poll.

City Clerk Elizabeth Burke reported on Monday, and again on Wednesday, that no group had come forward to file as a political committee in opposition to the Taxpayer Protection Initiative.

That situation led City Attorney Gary Kidd to call for an investigation of the matter, which he said should take 10 days to two weeks to complete. Until that time, Kidd declined to speculate Wednesday on whether any violations of state election law had occurred.

Depending on the results of the investigation, Kidd said, a violation could come with a penalty of "up to a $1,000 civil fine."

The Taxpayer Protection Initiative filed the required voter signatures in July to get the initiative on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.