PHOENIX – An obscure nonprofit that gave another $175,000 this week to the campaign against Proposition 204 is using anonymous contributors to manipulate voters, the head of a group supporting the measure said.
“If this is all above board, if there is nothing to hide, why aren’t you telling people who is giving big bucks?” said Ann-Eve Pedersen, chairwoman of Quality Education and Jobs Supporting 204.
Proposition 204 would enact a permanent 1 cent-per-dollar sales tax estimated to generate about $1 billion a year for education, transportation projects and human services.
In all, No New Taxes, No On 204, which is leading the campaign against the proposition, has received at least $925,000 from Americans for Responsible Leadership, according to reports filed with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. That’s by far the largest contribution to the effort.
Little is known about Americans for Responsible Leadership, which lists a Phoenix post office box as an address. It has an IRS status that doesn’t require it to reveal the sources of money it contributes.
Cronkite News Service has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to contact Americans for Responsible Leadership’s directors, who include several Valley businessmen and Kirk Adams, former speaker of the Arizona State House of Representatives.
The group also has contributed most of the money backing a campaign against Proposition 121, which would overhaul primary elections in Arizona, as well as $11 million to a group leading campaigns on two California ballot measures.
A California judge ruled Wednesday that the Americans for Responsible Leadership has to disclose where its contributions in that state came from, but it’s likely to be appealed.
In the end, Pedersen said, voters may not get an idea before the election of where No on 204′s money is coming from.
“In the world we are living in, big-money interests can buy elections,” she said.
The No on 204 campaign also received large contributions from the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association and the Lincoln Heritage Life Insurance Co.
Doug Ducey, Arizona state treasurer and leader of No on 204, said the contributions show his campaign has broad support.
“I’m thrilled that people have stepped forward and helped fund this ‘no’ campaign,” Ducey said. “And all that they get out if it is a reasonable tax code and an economy that has a chance.”
Ducey said that the campaign for Proposition 204 has been funded by special interests, including education unions and road builders who stand to benefit from transportation projects.
“It’s a special interest grab bag,” he said.
The Yes on 204 campaign has raised more money than the opposition, with its major funding coming from: We Build Arizona, a group representing contractors;
the National Education Association and Arizona Education Association Education Improvement Fund; and Friends of the Arizona School Boards Association Inc.
The campaign’s largest recent contribution was $200,000 from the National Education Association on Oct. 19, which was in addition to a $250,000 contribution from the group on Oct. 9.
Pedersen said the campaign has also gotten money from lots of individual donors including parents, teachers and community members.
In the days leading up to the election the campaign for 204 is knocking on doors, making phone calls and focusing on direct voter contact, Pedersen said.
“They’re trying to buy an election just by pouring in hundreds of thousands in dark money,” she said. “We’re trying to win an election just by talking with people.”
Ducey said that while the campaign against 204 has gone door to door with its message, it is focusing primarily on television ads.
The campaign released its third TV commercial this week calling Proposition 204 the largest permanent tax increase in Arizona history.
Two polls released in recent weeks showed 204 trailing among likely voters. But Pedersen said she thinks the election will be close.
“That’s why these final days are so important,” she said.