Calif. official accuses Arizona group of 'campaign money laundering' - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Calif. official accuses Arizona group of 'campaign money laundering'

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Posted: Monday, November 5, 2012 10:00 pm

Arizona voters are no closer today to finding who is providing major funding against two ballot initiatives despite a California Supreme Court ruling ordering disclosure.

Former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, of Mesa and president of Phoenix-based Americans for Responsive Leadership, filed a report Monday showing that $11 million it contributed to two California campaigns came exclusively from the Center to Protect Patient Rights. That Phoenix-based group is headed by Republican political consultant Sean Noble and has given millions to various conservative and anti-abortion causes.

But it turns out even that is not the whole story.

Noble, in his own disclosure letter turned over to California campaign officials, reports the $11 million was an ``intermediary contribution.'' He said the cash actually came from Virginia-based Americans for Job Security.

That organization lists itself as composed as ``businesses, business leaders and entrepreneurs from around the country.''

It also does not disclose its membership or source of funds.

Ann Ravel, who chairs the commission, said that amounts to ``campaign money laundering.'' And she promised this is not the end of the trail.

``We will pursue this vigorously, in all its permutations,'' she told Capitol Media Services.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris also said her office will continue to investigate, though she did not use the term ``laundering.''

Technically, Ravel's commission only has oversight of money spent on California campaigns. And her charge is to find the ultimate source behind the $11 million combined to defeat Proposition 30 which would impose a temporary tax hike on those earning more than $250,000 a year, along with a quarter-cent sales tax increase, and to approve Proposition 32 to ban corporate and labor donations to candidates.

And Ravel cannot say whether the same sources which put money into Americans for Responsible Leadership for the California measures are the same who spent more than $1.5 million to defeat two ARL spokesman Matt Ross said the group will not comment about who is behind the financing of the Arizona campaigns.

The latest campaign finance reports shows Americans for Responsible Leadership put more than $900,000 into the campaign against Proposition 204 to create a permanent one-cent surcharge on the state sales tax after the current temporary levy expires next year. It also spent $600,000 to defeat Proposition 121 to create an open primary system in Arizona for all currently partisan political offices at the federal, state and local level.

``But we will be looking into all aspects of this,'' Ravel said.

State and federal laws allow nonprofit organizations to contribute to political campaigns. But Arizona law requires only the name of the organization and the amount be disclosed.

The California commission, however, has the power to compel production of records to ensure that those who donate to these groups are aware when their funds are being used for political purposes. That made the bid by Ravel's agency to trace the funds for the two California measures the best chance of getting the information on the source of cash for the Arizona campaigns.

Ravel said there may be other ways of getting at this.

She said California law makes it a misdemeanor to ``launder'' campaign donations, with one person or organization giving in the name of another to hide the identity. But Ravel said it is a felony for two people to conspire to launder donations.

In the meantime, the first link is to the Center to Protect Patient Rights.

It lists a Phoenix post office box as its address. And Noble, who had been press aide to former Congressman John Shadegg, is listed on its 2010 tax returns as its 40-hour-a-week president and executive director.

Noble did not return repeated phone calls seeking information on the group.

But Noble's group gave more than $1.9 million in 2010 -- the first year after the Supreme Court legalized anonymous corporate donations -- to Americans for Prosperity, a group set up by Wichita-based Koch Industries and controlled by the Koch brothers, known for their contributions to conservative and anti-abortion causes. The Center for Responsive Politics has called Noble a ``political operative'' for the brothers.

Melissa Cohlmia, a spokeswoman for Koch Industries, denied any link -- at least to the California measures.

``Contrary to some media reports, Koch Industries, Charles Koch and David Koch have not provided any financial support'' on either the two California measures. ``Also we have not contributed to any group with the intent of helping Proposition 32 or defeating Proposition 30,'' she wrote in response to a query.

But Cohlmia did not respond to a follow-up on the Arizona ballot measures.

Americans for Responsive Leadership had fought efforts to force disclosure, with the case going to the California Supreme Court which issued a rare Sunday order to turn over the documents. A spokesman had said the organization would seek U.S. Supreme Court review but eventually turned over the letters identifying the two organizations where the funds had originated.

Documents on file with the Arizona Corporation Commission show Adams, who was speaker of the state House before an unsuccessful bid earlier this year for Congress, is listed as president.

Other directors include Robert Graham, who owns Scottsdale-based RG Capital, an investment firm. He also is running to be chairman of the Arizona Republican Party.

Also on the list are Eric Wnuck, another unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate, and Steve Nickolas whose web site says he is involved in the bottled beverage industry. Both list Scottsdale addresses.

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