Arizona's Republican Party chairman warned the political donors who make up the Sheriff's Command Association that their anonymity would attract state investigators.
"We expect the state is likely to ask for considerably more information about the activities of SCA and its participants should it become actively involved in this matter," Randy Pullen, the GOP chairman, wrote in an Oct. 10 letter.
That prediction might soon come true.
Last week, the Arizona secretary of state sent the state Attorney General's Office a complaint about the association's $105,000 in contributions to the GOP this election cycle.
There is reasonable cause to believe the mysterious transactions broke at least one campaign finance law, Joe Kanefield, state election director, wrote in his report.
With an $80,000 contribution in August and another $25,000 check in September, a group of donors listed in campaign finance filings only as "SCA" became the state Republican Party's largest single contributor.
But the donors refused to make public who, exactly, they are.
The only name party leaders had was that of Capt. Joel Fox, one of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's division commanders and political supporters. "I think we contacted Joel Fox because it was his signature on the check," said Sean McCaffrey, the state GOP's executive director.
The GOP returned the $105,000 to SCA on Oct. 18, after the donors repeatedly failed to identify themselves.
The Arizona Democratic Party argues SCA and the Republicans violated multiple state laws. In an Oct. 14 complaint filed with state and county election officials, Democrats claim that the anonymous donors illegally provided cash earmarked to produce television commercials attacking Democratic candidates then campaigning to unseat Arpaio and his close political ally, County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Republicans paid for two ads through a political committee, Arizonans for Public Safety, the party formed in August.
The first accused Dan Saban, who ran against Arpaio, of sexual misconduct and was pulled soon after Saban denounced the ad and it received negative public response.
The second claimed that Tim Nelson, Thomas' challenger, accepted campaign money from a child pornographer. Some television stations refused to air it and the party withdrew the commercial. The Saban ad was at best misleading, the Nelson ad was blatantly false.
Records from the secretary of state's examination, which the Tribune reviewed, show SCA made its initial contribution to the GOP two days after the party formed Arizonans for Public Safety.
The Democrats' complaint prompted the state's inquiry.
Anne Hilby, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the office is still considering whether to do a full investigation.
McCaffrey and Pullen have repeatedly denied all allegations. In a news release earlier this week, McCaffrey said Kanefield's report to the attorney general cleared the party of any wrongdoing.
In fact, Kanefield wrote that by accepting SCA's money without any information about the contributors, it likely broke a civil statute that requires such disclosure. And Kanefield said the secretary of state's office did not review the most serious allegation - that the GOP accepted a contribution from one person in the name of another - because it does not have jurisdiction over criminal matters.
Pullen provided the Secretary of State's Office copies of checks and other bank transaction records regarding his handling of the SCA contributions. However, it did not release copies of the checks that the anonymous groups wrote to the party. Kanefield said they did not request them.
Kanefield's report does not call for an investigation of whether SCA's donations constitute a contribution from one person in the name of another, which is a felony. The GOP campaign finance filings did not report that Fox wrote the checks, as McCaffrey says Fox did.
Fox did not return calls for comment.
Hilby declined to answer specific questions about the pending inquiry, but said the attorney general is not restricted to the secretary of state's recommendation.
"In general, if in the process of one inquiry we uncover other matters that we feel need to be looked into, we do have the authority to do that," Hilby said.
If the possible investigation leads to officials within the sheriff's office, Attorney General Terry Goddard's office might face a conflict-of-interest.
In October 2007, Goddard announced that he would no longer prosecute cases from the sheriff's office because Arpaio launched a criminal investigation of Goddard the previous April.
The sheriff's investigation into Goddard's handling of a plea deal with former state treasurer David Petersen in 2006 remains unresolved. Capt. Paul Chagolla, a sheriff's spokesman, did not return calls for comment about the investigation's status.
Goddard, a Democrat who defeated Thomas for attorney general in 2002, has argued Arpaio's investigation is politically motivated.
Hilby said the attorney general hasn't received any complaint regarding its review of the SCA matter.