Independent News Story Adds Fuel to Election Complaint Against Illegal Coordination of Secret Corporate “Dark” Money Being Spent In Local Arizona Race

Rabago calls the alleged unregulated corporate political activity the “toxic byproduct of Citizens United and Karl Rove-style politics.”

An independent news story has added fuel to the election complaint filed last Friday, October 26, 2012, against alleged illegal coordination and secret, corporate “dark” money being spent in a local county election in Pima County, Arizona.  County Supervisor candidate Sharon Bronson filed the complaint with the Arizona Secretary of State in an effort to fight “secret” corporate money flowing into her race from outside the state, in violation of various Arizona laws, including alleged corporate criminal activity.

It appears to be the first media reported instance of “dark” money being spent in a local, down-ballot race by an alleged non-profit corporation which claims to be a tax exempt business entity under federal I.R.S. laws in order to avoid disclosing any of its donors.

A story published late Friday, October 26, 2012, by an independent online news source, TucsonSentinel.com, revealed stunning newly disclosed facts in the saga, apparently detailing a coordinated employment shell game by the political consulting company for the purported “independent campaigns” with their alleged “former” employee working on the opposing candidate’s campaign, while still working for consulting company and owner.

All of this was apparently occurring after the consulting company supposedly stopped working for the candidate to work for the purported “independent” campaign spending sums of “dark” corporate money from the out-of-state company backed by secret donors.

In addition, the reporter for the Tucson Sentinel has uncovered other facts which further demonstrate the lack of independence, including the fact that the consulting company for the alleged independent campaign is still the registered owner of the opposing candidate’s campaign website, and is also listed as the administrative and technical contact for the candidate’s website.

The election complaint builds on details investigated and reported previously by Jim Nintzel of the Tucson Weekly, as reported here, and raises additional issues.

The article on the TucsonSentinel website, reproduced below, is accompanied by television video links to related television coverage on the Friday Political Roundtable segment of the Arizona Illustrated news show, produced by Arizona Public Media.  The article and links are available online at the following link:  http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/local/report/102612_tanner_bell/dems-allege-gop-supes-candidate-bell-got-illegal-campaign-help/

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TucsonSentinel.comindependent non-profit online news

Dems allege GOP supes candidate Bell got illegal campaign help

Updated Oct 26, 2012, 6:38 pm  Originally posted Oct 26, 2012, 5:23 p

Dylan Smith TucsonSentinel.com

Tanner Bell, a Republican candidate for the Pima County Board of Supervisors, has benefited from improper coordination between political consultants and campaign committees, a complaint filed Friday by incumbent Democrat Sharon Bronson alleged.

The complaint, sent to Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and other officials, asked for an investigation into Bell’s campaign, the “independent expenditure” committee Restoring Pride in Pima County, the nonprofit business league Arizonans for a Brighter Future, and TagLine Media Group, an advertising and political consulting firm.

Bell, who’s seeking to end Bronson’s 16-year tenure as a county supervisor for District 3, has benefited from what Democratic attorney Vince Rabago called “not just normal political shenanigans,” Democrats said.

Rabago, who prepared the 13-page complaint for Bronson’s campaign, said Friday that Bell has been helped by “outside dark money, and unregulated political committee activity.”

Bronson’s campaign manager, David Steele, said Bell has benefited from at least $23,000 spent by outside groups in support of his run for office. That was for just one TV ad buy, Steele said, saying there have been other ads and mailers as well.

“The claims are baseless,” Bell said Friday afternoon, calling the complaint “a politically motivated, last-ditch effort to keep Sharon in office for 20 years.”

Read the full complaint

Calls to Michael Farley, a developer who founded Arizonans for a Brighter Future, were not returned Friday.

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Deb Weisel, the owner of TagLine, dismissed the complaint.

“You can file a lawsuit against anyone you want,” she said Friday afternoon. “There isn’t a campaign that goes by that the Democrats don’t file a lawsuit or complaint.”

“We’re honest to a fault,” Weisel said, describing her firm as “just a vendor.”

“It’s like if we were a mailing house. Would it be wrong for the committee to use the same mailing house as Tanner?,” she said.

TagLine was the subject of election-related complaints filed earlier this year by Republican candidates Mike Hellon and Stuart McDaniel and Democratic candidate Nancy Young-Wright.

The complaint filed by Bronson alleged that:

  • TagLine Media stopped working on Bell’s campaign earlier this year to work for two pro-Bell groups, Arizonans for a Brighter Future and Restoring Pride in Pima County, violating laws that prohibit coordination between candidates and independent committees.
  • Bell owes over $3,700 to TagLine for prior work, which the complaint said means his campaign is not independent from the other groups the firm is working for, and that the extension of credit is an illegal campaign contribution.
  • Bell’s failure to report the extension of credit as a contribution, despite the debt being listed on election filings, violates campaign finance laws.
  • Arizonans for a Brighter Future, which is incorporated in Delaware as a nonprofit 501c6 trade group, has violated Arizona laws by not registering to do business and not registering to solicit contributions in the state.
  • That ABF has violated federal law by focusing solely on supporting political candidates.
  • Restoring Pride in Pima County has not followed election law by failing to inform Bronson when sending our direct mail pieces naming her.

“The campaigns are not independent (as required by law),” Rabago said in an interview.

“Money spent by purportedly independent election committees is an in-kind contribution (to Bell),” he said.

Bell said he’s had “absolutely zero” contact with TagLine since they dropped him as a client to work for Arizonans for a Brighter Future. He also said he’s had no contact with the organizers of that group.

“I’ve met (Michael Farley) maybe once,” he said. Bell said he didn’t know why Farley’s group was spending tens of thousands to support him, as the Democrats contend. Trade groups are allowed to spend money on lobbying, and a limited amount on candidates, but can’t legally focus on supporting or defeating individual candidates without violating tax laws.

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Arizonans for a Brighter Future has not disclosed its donors.

Bell acknowledged owing money to TagLine, saying he’s working to pay down the debt. He said he’s had no contact with Weisel since TagLine stopped working on his campaign.

“Owing me money and me doing work for (Bell) are two very different things,” Weisel said. “You know how it can be, trying to get people to pay you.”

“It is what it is,” Weisel said of the complaint. “I don’t call the shots.”

While Bell said the investigation request is “last-ditch,” Rabago and Steele denied that the complaint is an “October Surprise.”

“Putting all the stuff together took time,” Rabago said.

“It was filed when it was ready,” Steele said in a Friday interview.

“The amount of coordination between the independent committees and the campaign itself is extraordinary in my view,” Steele said.

“It’s ham-handed and just wrong,” he said, calling the alleged efforts by the groups “an attempt to evade election laws.”

“If our elected officials took this stuff seriously, they’d get involved,” Steele said. “But election laws and disclosure laws are not sexy stuff.”

Rabago called the alleged activity the “toxic byproduct of Citizens United and Karl Rove-style politics.”

“For democracy to work, everyone has to play by rules,” Bronson, said in a news release. ‘We cannot allow these shady groups and their big money backers to skirt the law. I am happy to do my part to see that they are stopped.’

Other connections

The legal complaint didn’t include all of the connections between Bell and TagLine.

An “organizational chart” released Friday by the Pima County Democratic Party detailed the alleged relationships between the subjects of the complaint (see image in sidebar). The chart included an allegation that a TagLine employee, Christina Cruz, is being “laundered” through another company Weisel owns while she works on Bell’s campaign.

Cruz, who some Democrats have described as now “working as the manager of the Vote Tanner Bell Campaign,” worked on Bell’s campaign for TagLine.

Cruz, who did not respond to a request for comment, is no longer an employee of TagLine, Weisel said. Instead, she works for car audio installer The Specialists — a business co-owned by Weisel and her husband.

Weisel said she doesn’t know much about what she described as “my husband’s business,” but said that Cruz “does social media for some of my clients, mainly for The Specialists.”

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Weisel said that Cruz doesn’t do political work for Bell “on the Specialists’ clock.”

Bell said that Cruz “isn’t my campaign manager, Sherry Potter is.” Cruz “does some social media stuff for us, Facebook, etc.,” he said.

Cruz’s own social media pages — Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — indicate she works for TagLine.

Bell’s most recent campaign finance statement included $500 paid directly to Cruz for consulting work.

Another Internet-related connection between Bell and TagLine is his campaign website. Weisel is listed on Internet whois records as the administrative and technical contact for votetannerbell.com. TagLine is listed as the registrant.

Internet regulations require domain registration records to be kept up to date.

“I’m not 100 percent sure about the technical stuff,” Bell said. “I know we can update the site without contacting (TagLine). Beyond that, I’m unsure about those issues.”

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