What’s Wrong With This Story?

It’s amazing that it has now come to a commission, or specifically the opinion of one person who serves that commission, that a person’s opinion can now be used to help another candidate financially. If a union newspaper promotes Janet Napolitano for Governor, can we count on the CCEC to trigger matching funds to the Republican Clean Elections candidates?  

Catalog in Clean Elections sightsBy Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
July 11, 2006
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission will have to decide what is a legitimate newspaper and what is not.

Todd Lang, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said he is exploring whether an endorsement of Republican gubernatorial hopeful Len Munsil in a catalog published by a Prescott gun dealer amounts to an in-kind contribution to Munsil’s campaign.

An in-kind contribution is a noncash gift that can be given a cash value. The catalog with the endorsement was mailed to about 13,000 Arizonans.

Lang said if such an endorsement is to be considered a contribution — which is his preliminary conclusion — then the value of that endorsement should be considered an expense by the Munsil campaign. And that would trigger a match of public monies to Don Goldwater, the other publicly financed candidate in the Republican gubernatorial campaign.

What Lang and the commission conclude has implications far beyond the J&G Gun Sales catalog: It puts the state in the position of defining what is a legitimate news publication. That’s because an endorsement by what the commission considers a newspaper or magazine does not trigger matching funds, even if that endorsement were to suggest that people volunteer time or donate funds to the candidate.

But an identical plea in a private publication that goes out to more than just association members, Lang said, effectively is a donation.

At the heart of the battle is an eight paragraph endorsement of Munsil in the J&G catalog sent out at the end of March, signed by Brent DeSaye, vice president of the family-owned company.

DeSaye wrote that he had spoken to Munsil about “issues that are critical to Arizona shooters and hunters’’ and found him friendly to issues of the right to own and carry firearms “how and where they choose.’’

Lang said there is no evidence of coordination between DeSaye and Munsil that would have made the endorsement — DeSaye called it an “editorial’’ — an illegal direct campaign donation. But he said it still could qualify as an in-kind contribution.

He conceded that course of action is fraught with potential pitfalls. The first, he said, is determining the value of the endorsement.

Potentially more serious would be that the Citizens Clean Elections Commission would have to determine what is a legitimate news publication, whose endorsement does not trigger matching funds, and what is not.

“My preliminary take is this is not a newspaper,’’ Lang said.

“This is effectively a mailer,’’ he continued. “It’s effectively the same thing as printing a gun catalog, mailing it to your guys, and then sticking a poster of Munsil in the middle of it.’’

Lang conceded he’s not exactly sure where the line is drawn. But he said that daily newspapers clearly qualify as legitimate publications and the J. Crew catalog does not.

“The question is what about in between those two,’’ he said. The matching dollars provision is available only to candidates who accept public funding for their campaigns and agree to limit spending. Republicans Mike Harris and Gary Tupper are running for governor with private donations or their own cash and would not get a match.

Too much power in the hands of one man? You judge.


Comments

  1. Sonoran Truth Squad says

    The power actually rests in the hands of the full commission, and then there is a legal challenge process behind it. But that catalog was just that, a catalog. It was not a newspaper or any other form of media. What happens if I want to support Mike Harris, so I create a 4-color publication all about Mike Harris and mail it to tens of thousands of people. We would all agree that that is an independent expenditure. Now suppose I put a cover on it that has an ad for my business, but the remainder of the piece is all “I Like Mike”? Frankly, that’s still an IE. I’d imagine that whatever part of the catalog constituted the IE should trigger matching funds. If it was 1 page out of 50, then 2% of the total cost should be treated like an IE…

    This is far different from union and association expenditures to their “membership” because there are specific laws regarding communications to membership. Arizona Right to Work can communicate to its membership and that doesn’t trigger matching funds. But this was a commercial interest, not an association or non-profit.

    Which raises a final point. If this was an expenditure, then it was likely a corporate expenditure because it is doubtful that the man paid for it himself. It was his gun company that paid for it and, as we all know, corporate contributions are illegal. So does he have to reimburse the company personally? Does he face some sort of sanction or penalty?

    Should be interesting to watch though!

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