A Scottsdale activist filed a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General's Office on Tuesday, asking the office to investigate whether developer Steve Ellman and members of the Maricopa County Republican Party attempted to improperly influence the Scottsdale mayoral election last spring.
The four-page complaint, filed by attorney Michelle Aubert, alleges that most of Ellman's $25,000 campaign contribution to the Maricopa County Republican Committee in February may have been illegally spent on partisan mailers aimed at dismantling the mayoral campaign of David Ortega.
A former city councilman, Ortega was the chief critic of Ellman's onetime plan to build a tax-subsidized Wal-Mart at the long-vacant Los Arcos Mall site.
Ortega said he plans to raise the issue on Thursday with Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard during a scheduled meeting of the Latino Advisory Council, of which Ortega is a member.
"It was a nonpartisan election. Most of my money came from business associates who actually were Republican. They chose to make it a bitter, partisan issue," said Ortega, who is a Democrat. "It looks like (Maricopa County Republican Committee chairman) Tom Liddy is really soiling the reputation of Arizona Republicans and I think they should be called out and looked at very thoroughly, and I expect that's going to happen."
The complaint asks Goddard to investigate whether Liddy had discussions with Ellman regarding how the money would be spent.
Six days after receiving Ellman's campaign contribution, the GOP committee formed a political group called Friends of Scottsdale. That group proceeded to spend $18,000 on mailers and phone calls that harshly criticized Ortega's leadership abilities.
State campaign finance law prohibits individuals from making political contributions of more than $350 in municipal races.
There was no communication about how Ellman's contribution would be spent, both Liddy and an Ellman Cos. executive said Tuesday. Liddy furnished a letter to the Tribune that he mailed to Ellman on Feb. 5, asking for a general contribution in the range of $10,000 to $50,000 to the committee. The letter was one of about 30 he sent soliciting contributions from well-heeled business leaders, he said.
"There were no earmarked funds so it will go nowhere," Liddy said of the complaint. "It sounds like a fishing expedition to me."
Ellman's $25,000 contribution was five times larger than any other individual contribution the county Republicans have received since at least 1998, records show.
Ellman Cos. senior vice president Bob Kaufman called the complaint "bunk" and said Ellman has often donated to political causes and to both Republicans and Democrats.
"That's totally false. That's defamatory," Kaufman said. "Everyone knows that when you give money to political parties those funds can't be earmarked for anything. Once you give (money) to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, it's up to them how they use it."
The Maricopa County Republican Committee targeted Ortega because it believed he would be easier to defeat than Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross, also a Democrat. The idea was to defeat Ortega in the March election and advance Bob Usdane, a longtime Republican, into a May runoff with Manross.
The complaint also says the involvement of three other GOP members should be investigated: Nathan Sproul, a well-known Republican strategist; Brittany Balmer, executive director of the Maricopa County Republican Committee and an employee of Sproul; and Meghan Cox, also an employee of Sproul.
Balmer was listed as the chairwoman of Friends of Scottsdale. When asked what her interest was in the Scottsdale mayoral race, Balmer said she was asked by Sproul to form the group.
Sproul said he and Liddy had conversations about forming Friends of Scottsdale to support Usdane, but there was never any involvement by Ellman.
Aubert also filed the complaint with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and with Scottsdale City Attorney Joe Bertoldo.
"I've come to the end of what I, as one person, can do," Aubert said. "But certainly somebody with subpoena power and the power to put parties under oath could get answers to questions."