DESPITE HER NEUTRAL public stance about a wildlife referendum slated for November's ballot, Gov. Jane Hull has apparently cozied up with ranchers and commercial hunting interests allied behind the measure.
Nor is the governor alone: Even the state's top wildlife steward has dished out $1,000 to backers of Prop 102. The beefy donation by Duane Shroufe, director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, ranks among the biggest individual gifts to the referendum effort. It's listed on a campaign finance report by Arizonans for Wildlife Conservation, a disingenuously titled lobbying group of ranchers and hunters pushing for Prop 102.
Shroufe has admitted attending a huge AWC fund-raising gala in April. And according to confidential documents obtained by the Tucson Weekly, Hull told one referendum leader a month before the party that she'd make an appearance.
But after endless calls to her office, the governor still refuses to confirm whether she actually joined Shroufe and some 3,000 other revelers at Wildlife for the Millennium and Beyond, the AWC's "historic fund-raising event" in Phoenix Civic Plaza.
Of course, Shroufe has no comment on the wildlife issue itself. But he denies donating to the AWC. He didn't have an explanation for how that donation in his name landed on the AWC's finance report. "I'll have to check it out and get back to you," he says.
That was last Friday.
Hull's stonewalling, and the fact that she and Shroufe are playing both sides of the fence--dishing out noncommittal pabulum about Prop 102 for public consumption, while supporting it from the shadows--is despicable enough, critics say.
But they call it downright disgraceful that the state's top official and her underling have allied themselves with the AWC, which is currently under investigation by the Arizona Secretary of State's office over a $200,000 log cabin that it's raffling off.
Strangely enough, this rustic palace has not appeared anywhere on AWC campaign finance reports.
"These guys are obviously sophisticated about campaign issues, and they've already raised over $600,000," says Stephanie Nichols-Young, a pro-bono attorney for groups opposed to Prop 102. "But their violations are numerous and significant. There simply seems to be no effort on their part to comply with campaign finance laws."
She's right: Referendum supporters do seem like folks with plenty of political smarts. Vigorous referendum backers include Suzanne Gilstrap, chief lobbyist for the AWC and wife of Hays Gilstrap, chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. And the guv's son, Mike Hull, is the AWC's talking head.
And that's just a peek. Prying the Prop 102 door wider reveals a cheek-to-jowls juggernaut by Arizona power brokers to ensure the measure's victory.
The presence of heavy hitters isn't surprising, considering what's at stake. Passed by the legislature last spring and forwarded to the ballot, the so-called supermajority referendum asks voters to give up much of their power by requiring a nearly impossible two-thirds, or 67 percent, approval margin for any future wildlife initiatives to become law. If passed, the measure would be amended into the Arizona Constitution.
Supermajority opponents say it would squelch democracy and hamper sincere wildlife reforms. The ballot measure has also sparked a split among hunters, many of whom consider it part of a shady agenda by Hull and lawmakers to commercialize hunting, and eventually shift the lion's share of tag permits to ranchers. (It's worth mentioning that one of Hull's top advisors is Joe "Doc" Lane, head of the Arizona Cattlegrowers Association).
Under this scheme, those ranchers could then sell hunting privileges on their land to professional guides, thereby lining their own pockets, and simultaneously reducing the populations of big predators and grazing-competitive wildlife like elk. And with the supermajority hurdle in place, mom-and-pop hunters and other citizens couldn't do diddly about it.
The scorched-earth campaign to pass Prop 102 began in the legislature, and the ferocity behind it surprised even veteran Tucson Sen. Elaine Richardson. She was a member of the Senate's environmental subcommittee when the issue steam-rolled through the statehouse last spring. Richards calls referendum backers "a very powerful, powerful group. They hired (influential Phoenix law firm) Snell and Wilmer, they hired Suzanne Gilstrap, they had heavy, heavy lobbying going on all the time. And the Game and Fish people came (to the legislature) and worked it like you wouldn't believe."
Richardson labels the Wildlife Initiative "a stinker-and-a-half. Proponents of the supermajority are changing the initiative process," she says. "They went and hired high-powered attorneys and said 'OK, forget the will of the people. We'll go to the legislature, and say sure, a wildlife initiative can go on the ballot, but it will need a two-thirds voter approval to pass.' Now, what are the chances of getting anything to pass by two-thirds?"
If lawmakers want to change the initiative process, "then change it for every issue," she says. "Don't change it just for one issue. What (supermajority proponents) have done is the most onerous thing I have ever seen for the people of Arizona."
The measure grew out of fear within the ranching lobby that 1994's successful trapping ban initiative might be repeated, she says. "You've got rural senators such as Gus Arzberger, Jack Brown, Herb Guenther, you know, those types of people who are the old-thinking rural Democrats representing ranching interests. And then you've got all the Republicans, and you know, they walk like sheep since they're the majority party."
If so, they're also embracing a few black sheep, given the AWC's questionable fund-raising practices. In numerous memos prior to its registration as a political action committee, former group chairman Brad Kerby details long hours already spent in the trenches. In an online posting dated September 14, 1999, Kerby notes that the AWC "for 18 months now has quietly been planning the proposal of an amendment to the Arizona Constitution ..."
On the AWC website in December, 1999, he urges supporters to "become as enthused about the campaign as is the core committee of individuals that have been working behind the scenes for 18 months to put it together."
That would date the nascent effort back to July, 1998, nearly a year before the AWC officially registered. Which raises two questions: Who are these "individuals," and who doled out the cash for their work, which included hiring a professional polling company? These niggling queries certainly aren't answered on AWC finance reports. According to records from its May, 1999 inception, the AWC started out with a balance of zero. Nor are there any listed expenditures for the official lobbying efforts of Suzanne Gilstrap until August 26, 1999.
While all these quirks might not recommend Brad Kerby as an accountant, at least he has friends in high places. In another memo, also dated September 14, he notes that the "[AGF] Commissioners (but not the Department or Director) can participate and be active supporters and volunteers in the Campaign ... . We expect that Hays Gilstrap, who will chair the Commission during the Campaign, will be equally effective."
Unfortunately, all this backroom intrigue apparently tuckered Kerby out. He resigned his position earlier this year, and reportedly moved to Las Vegas. But his departure followed yet one more online posting. "I have worked my **s off for the last two years getting ready for this campaign," says his September posting, "and the hours I have spent on this instead of my profession has cost me well over one hundred thousand dollars. I am committed to finishing this and to continuing this effort through to Election Day ..."
Asked why the former AWC chairman would split town before tasting the fruits of his labors--or whether his departure had anything to do with allegations raised about the group--current AWC treasurer Pete Cimellaro had little to say. Cimellaro also declined to provide Kerby's unlisted Nevada number. Current AWC chairman Floyd Green didn't return several phone calls from the Weekly.
Then there's the cabin. That $200,000 log love-nest is situated on a lush forest acre in Alpine. But it isn't listed in AWC's filings. Neither is a $35,000 Dodge pickup. Or five guided hunts. Or a 4X4 Polaris ATV, all a part of the AWC fund-raising raffle.
According to brochures, the contest began in earnest last April, and a call to the toll-free raffle number is still answered with a cheery "Hi, AWC!"
But again, the plethora of prizes is nowhere to be found on AWC finance reports.
So what gives? Or rather, who gave what to whom?
On this point, everyone is stonewalling.
Perhaps it didn't say much for Cimellaro's treasuring skills, either, when he vaguely mumbled in a phone conversation about "not knowing what's going to happen with (the cabin) yet. It was donated to the AWC, but I don't know what we're going to have to pay for that cabin."
But donations to political action committees are usually just that: donations. And listed as such.
Either way, this we know: The rustic Shangri-la was donated by Pioneer Log Cabin Homes, based in Payson, and owned by Pioneer Log Cabin Homes Real Estate, which lists its corporate office in Scottsdale. But repeated calls to Pioneer owners Bryan Reid and Brian George weren't returned.
While a call to AWC contributor and fellow Pioneer Log Homer Clay Wills didn't turn up Wills himself, his wife did spill a few beans, saying she thought the home was actually donated to the Arizona Mule Deer Association.
Which is weird, because the AMDA isn't listed as a PAC at all.
The wife of Mule Deer President Larry Kindred wasn't nearly so helpful. And her husband didn't return several phone calls from the Weekly.
For his part, AWC spokesman Mike Hull got right down to business. "We've actually over-reported," he says. "We've gone way above what's actually necessary for the reporting process."
As for the cabin, "We're set up as a 501(C)4 (non-profit group)," Hull said, "and these are the ones where you don't actually have to report--you can actually keep (a donation) in that facility and then release it to the campaign at different times."
Then again, maybe not. "Any donations to the campaign that are going to be used to influence the outcome of the election and have been received by the (PAC) should be recorded," says state elections director Jessica Funkhouser. "Any money that they're getting should be considered a contribution."
As for the AWC's backwoods Xanadu, "It has been referred to our office and is under review," she says, "so I'd rather not comment on the particulars."
Still, the cabin is only one contribution among many comprising the AWC's current $668,000 war chest. And herein lies yet another gem: While Prop 102 backers proudly proclaim themselves the vanguard against political meddling by well-heeled, out-of-state environmental and animal-rights groups, they appear to be playing the same game. Some of their biggest contributions come from national political organizations, including $150,000 from the Ballot Issues Coalition, and $25,000 from the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America.
Given all that cash, it appears that AGF director Shroufe and Gov. Hull have picked a winning ticket. But if he were still around, Brad Kerby might be in the dumps over Hull's latter-day timidity. In an online posting dated March 30, he talks up the AWC's approaching April 21 fund-raising gala. "Gov. Jane Dee Hull will attend the banquet," he writes. "I met with her Tuesday [March 28] and she is in full support of the Referendum."
So did she, and does she?
The governor's social activities on April 21 and her reported backing for the referendum remain a mystery--even after no fewer than 15 unreturned phone calls to Hull spokeswoman Francie Noyes. However, one fact triumphantly emerges from this political morass: Noyes certainly knows how to be in meetings. Or how to enjoy long office breaks. Or how to take calls on the other line.
Busy as a little beaver, she is. Oops--that just might be an issue for the mighty backers of Prop 102.