Photo by Cindy Barks.
Originally Published: August 3, 2017 8:13 p.m.
Updated as of Friday, August 4, 2017 6:05 AM
Shedding light on who paid for two recent “dark-money” campaign mailers will be central to a defamation lawsuit that lawyers for mayoral candidate Mary Beth Hrin filed this week.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Aug. 3, local attorney Chris Jensen reported that his office had filed a defamation lawsuit in Yavapai County Superior Court earlier that day against the organization that sent out the mailers attacking Hrin.
At the same time, Jensen’s office also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent “further false statements” about Hrin.
In the course of obtaining evidence in the defamation case, Jensen said he plans to aggressively pursue – through the discovery process and witness depositions – information on who paid for the mailers.
One of three candidates running for Prescott Mayor, Hrin was the subject of two recent postcard mailers, which claimed, among other things, that she had “fleeced” Arizona taxpayers for thousands of dollars in a matter involving the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).
The postcard included a portion of a document that lists an “amount due” of $15,000 for medical care.
Jensen maintains that the information on the postcards was meant to intentionally deceive the voters.
Noting that his firm regularly deals with liens, Jensen explained that Hrin suffered a serious injury years ago in a hit-and-run collision while she was riding a bicycle. In such cases, he said, AHCCCS typically files a lien to be reimbursed by the party at fault (should that party be identified).
In Hrin’s case, Jensen said, the third “adverse party” was never determined, and the lien was released.
“We know about liens, and anybody who knows about liens knows that this is a lie,” Jensen said of the claims in the flyers. “Clearly, they’re intentionally making false statements and trying to influence the election.”
The defamation complaint states: “These defamatory acts have caused harm and damage to Mary Beth Hrin, and are intended and designed to interfere with the fair and honest election process that is constitutionally protected …”
Hrin, who attended the press conference along with State Reps. David Stringer and Noel Campbell and several other supporters, pointed out that “there is a lot of money being spent against me.” She said one of the objectives of the lawsuit is to determine who is behind the effort.
“That’s the reason we’re filing this lawsuit is really to get to the truth of all of this,” Hrin said during the news conference. “I really would like to find this out, and I think the voters would like to find this out.”
Stringer pointed out that he attended the news conference “not just as a friend and supporter of Mary Beth Hrin but as an elected official, because I have a responsibility to the citizens of Prescott to protect them from what I perceive to be voter fraud.”
'DARK MONEY' CLAIMS
The postcards list the Arizona Voter Education Project as the source. Information on the Arizona Corporation Commission’s website states that the Arizona Voter Education Project is a nonprofit civic organization in Maricopa County, with Max Fose as the chairman.
Hrin’s defamation lawsuit names Fose and his wife as defendants, as well as: Integrated Web Strategy, LLC; the Arizona Voter Education Project, Inc.; and “John and Jane Does.”
The Arizona Voter Education Project did not return a request for comment about the lawsuit Thursday evening.
Jensen referred to the organization as a vehicle for “dark-money” – the funds used to pay for campaign efforts that are not disclosed to voters.
City officials have said that organizations such as the Arizona Voter Education file through the State of Arizona, and are not required to file financial disclosure information with the city, as are local Political Action Committees.
The lawsuit asks for compensatory and punitive damages “in amounts to be proven at trial,” along with the costs of the suit and all legal fees.
Jensen says the amount of the damages would be “related to the outcome of the election.” For instance, he said, if Hrin wins the mayoral races, her damages would be less, but if she loses, her damages would be more.
The lawsuit is being paid for by “private funds,” Jensen said, and is not a part of Hrin’s campaign.