State official: Little merit in complaint over university students' Prop 204 donation

A complaint about an illegal campaign contribution to the Proposition 204 campaign appears to have little legal merit, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

Matt Roberts, the agency's spokesman, acknowledged his office got a two-page complaint from Shawnna Bolick alleging that the Quality Jobs and Education Committee illegally got $120,000 from the Arizona Students Association.

Bolick contends that some association board members and officers may have violated the organization's bylaws in approving the funds. And she wants Secretary of State Ken Bennett to order the campaign to return the money.

"This money belongs to Arizona's public university students and it may not be used for political purposes without their consent,'' she wrote.

But Roberts said there's one key problem with her allegation: It does not suggest that the Proposition 204 committee did anything wrong in accepting the funds.

More to the point, he said, the only role of the Secretary of State is to ensure that all campaign committees properly report contributions they get and how the money was spent. And the Quality Education and Jobs Committee did report the money.

Roberts said if Bolick has a problem with the donation and how it was authorized, her fight is with the Arizona Students Association. And he said Bennett has no jurisdiction over whether that organization's bylaws were followed.

The complaint is the latest in a series of legal actions designed to undermine the initiative which would impose a permanent one-cent surcharge on the state sales tax. If approved it would not alter the current 6.6 percent rate because it is crafted to take effect on June 1, the day after the temporary three-year levy approved by voters in 2010 expired.

Foes attempted to knock the initiative off the ballot by pointing out that the version of the measure prefiled with Bennett's office did not match what was actually circulated. The state Supreme Court disagreed, saying backers "substantially complied'' with what the law requires.

And the courts also rebuffed how a legislative committee dominated by foes of the measure sought to describe the measure in a publicity pamphlet.

This latest fight is over the fact that students at the state's three universities pay a $2-a-semester "mandatory'' fee to fund the Arizona Student Association.

Students who object can seek a refund. But they have to do that within 21 days of the beginning of each semester.

In her complaint, Bolick alleges that those who wanted to support the initiative purposely engineered a vote by phone in a way to keep objecting members of the board from participating.

Jordan King, the board's vice chairman, defended the decision.

"It directly benefits student issues,'' he said.

Out of the first $1 billion raised, $50 million would go to university scholarships, operations and a new fund for construction. That percentage increases after that first $1 billion.

King acknowledged that probably not every student in the university system may support the initiative. But he said the nature of representative government is that the students elected the board members and authorized them to make these decisions.

The most recent figures show supporters have gathered about $1.2 million, including what they had to spend getting hiring paid circulators.

Opponents have raised about $705,000.