Lawsuit over campaign flyers ends in settlement

Mary Beth Hrin

Mary Beth Hrin

The August lawsuit that Prescott mayoral candidate Mary Beth Hrin filed claiming defamation was settled this week, although the terms of the settlement are confidential.

Hrin’s attorney Chris Jensen sent out a news release Friday, Dec. 1, with a statement from Hrin.

“Today I announce Max Fose and his front organizations settled my claims on confidential terms,” Hrin stated in the press release.

She added that the settlement “proves the assault on my reputation was false.”

Hrin filed the defamation lawsuit in early August, after the Arizona Voter Education Project, which is chaired by Fose, mailed out two flyers that included negative claims about Hrin.

At the time, Hrin was one of three candidates running in the Aug. 29 primary for the Prescott Mayor position. She ultimately came in third in the primary, and was eliminated from the Nov. 7 general-election runoff.

Hrin stated in the Friday press release: “During the City of Prescott mayoral primary campaign, paid political operative Max Fose of Phoenix, through his front organization Arizona Voters Education Project, sent out mass mailings containing false and defamatory statements about me.”

She maintains that the mailers “were intended to destroy my campaign and reputation. I filed suit against Fose and his cohorts because of these lies.”

During an Aug. 3 press conference, Hrin said she hoped that the lawsuit would shed light on who paid the Arizona Voters Education Project organization to send out the mailers.

“That’s the reason we’re filing this lawsuit is really to get to the truth of all of this,” Hrin said during the press conference. “I really would like to find this out, and I think the voters would like to find this out.”

In this week’s press release, however, Hrin said that the identity of those who paid for the campaign against her “remain unknown until the City of Prescott chooses to enforce Arizona Campaign Finance Law.”

Subsequent to her filing of the defamation lawsuit against Fose, Hrin also filed a complaint with the Prescott City Clerk’s office, alleging finance reporting violations against Fose and the Arizona Voter Education Project.

On Friday afternoon, Prescott City Attorney Jon Paladini reported that his department had sent a letter to attorneys for Hrin and Fose in late November, responding to Hrin’s claim.

Maintaining that the Arizona Voter Education Project had filed “the proper campaign finance disclosure” within the required time frame, Paladini said, “To me, the case is closed.”

Paladini’s five-page letter to the two attorneys concludes with, “Under the authority of (Arizona statute), this office determines that there is no reasonable cause to believe a violation of state campaign finance law(s) occurred.”

The letter states that because the Arizona Voter Education Project’s primary purpose was not to influence the result or outcome of an election, the organization “does not qualify as a political committee” under state law.

Rather, Paladini’s letter states, the organization’s expenditures on the flyers “were appropriately classified as ‘independent expenditures,’” and, as such, were properly reported.

City records show that an attorney for the Arizona Voter Education Project filed a campaign finance report with the city clerk in mid-August on three expenditures relating to the flyers against Hrin.

The expenditures totaled nearly $8,500, according to the report. An attorney for Arizona Voter Education Project said at the time that information on where the money came from, as well as to whom it was paid, is not required to be disclosed.

Hrin’s attorneys have claimed that the flyers were funded through “dark money” – the funds used to pay for campaign efforts that are not disclosed to voters.

Friday afternoon, Jensen said that Hrin would review Paladini’s letter “and may respond in the future.”

An attorney representing the Arizona Voters Education Project could not be reached for comment on the settlement Friday afternoon.