Photo by Cindy Barks.
Originally Published: August 11, 2017 5:57 a.m.
Prescott Mayoral candidate Mary Beth Hrin has followed up last week’s campaign-related defamation lawsuit with a claim of election finance fraud by the organization that sent out recent mailers about her.
Earlier this week, Hrin’s attorney’s filed a complaint with the Prescott City Clerk’s office against Max Fose and the Arizona Voter Education Project for alleged finance reporting violations.
The complaint states that the Arizona Voter Education Project was required to disclose campaign finance information with the city when it mailed out two flyers recently that make negative claims about Hrin.
Prescott City Attorney Jon Paladini suggests, however, that the claim might be premature.
According to Hrin’s complaint, “The Arizona Voter Education Project has paid for two advertisements to be mailed in two separate mass mailings to the voters of Prescott, Arizona, seeking to influence voters to vote ‘no’ as to Mary Beth Hrin for Mayor of the City of Prescott.”
It adds that while the Arizona Voter Education Project, Inc. was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation, the organization “had its tax-exempt status revoked by the Internal Revenue Service on May 15, 2015 ....”
Hrin’s attorney Chris Jensen says the revocation of the nonprofit status “triggers a preemption that they are a political action committee.” And as such, he says the organization was required to file financial disclosure information with the City of Prescott.
But Paladini notes that campaign finance reports are filed according to a reporting-period schedule.
For instance, the most recent disclosure filing was due by July 15, and covered the campaign activities from April 30 to June 30, while the next reporting period runs from July 1 to Aug. 12, with disclosure reports due by Aug. 19.
To help clear up which reporting cycle the mailers would fall into, Paladini said his department had sent a question to Jensen’s office about when the mailers against Hrin were sent.
By Thursday afternoon, Aug. 10, Paladini said he had yet to hear back on the question.
Without an answer to the question, Paladini said, “We don’t see any evidence of expenditures prior to July 1” – a status that could put the financial-disclosure requirement in the current reporting period (ending Aug. 12, with financial disclosure paperwork due by Aug. 19).
“Based on that conclusion, there was no required filing, and there is nothing to investigate at this point,” Paladini said.
Depending on the timing of the mailers, the Arizona Voter Education Project could be required to file information with the city as an Independent Expenditure Committee (IEC).
Still, the financial disclosure requirements for such committees are not as extensive as they are for candidates and political action committees, which are required to give detailed reports on their contributors and expenditures, Paladini said.
Along with a basic statement of registration, state law requires IECs with expenditures of $1,000 during a reporting period to file: Identification of the candidate or ballot measure supported or opposed; the office sought by the candidate; the election date; the mode of advertising; and the first date of publication, display, delivery or broadcast of the advertisement.
Meanwhile, Paladini said his office also sent a letter to the Arizona Secretary of State and Attorney General’s office to inquire about whose jurisdiction the matter falls under.
Jensen explained that this week’s claim of campaign finance violation differs from the lawsuit filed last week in a number of ways.
“They’re completely different issues,” Jensen said, noting that the defamation complaint that was filed Aug. 3 in Yavapai County Superior Court claims that Hrin was personally damaged and seeks damages.
On the other hand, this week’s complaint filed with the City of Prescott deals with campaign finance laws.
Jensen noted earlier that one of the goals of the defamation lawsuit is to identify who paid for the mailers that attacked Hrin during the discovery process, which includes deposition questioning of witnesses under oath.
Jensen referred to the Arizona Voter Education Project as a vehicle for “dark money” – the funds used to pay for campaign efforts that are not disclosed to voters.
City officials had earlier maintained 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.
Hrin is one of three candidates seeking the Prescott Mayor position. Ballots were mailed to Prescott voters earlier this week, and are due back by Aug. 29, the date of the city’s primary.