SHEDDING MORE LIGHT
We're learning more about Arizonans for a Brighter Future, the mysterious nonprofit that has sprung up in our local elections this year with a disinformation campaign about county transportation spending. (See "Whose Bright Idea," July 19.)
We just received some interesting documents that confirm a few of our suspicions about who is behind the organization. But deadlines are deadlines, and we're still examining the documents, so we'll have to do the Big Reveal online after our print edition goes to press. Head over to The Range at daily.tucsonweekly.com for the fresh spill on this one.
But here's what we know so far: Arizonans for a Brighter Future is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit. While slightly different, it has similarities to Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, except it doesn't have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on so-called "advocacy ads" in political campaigns.
Exactly how much money the group has is unknown. That's because it was organized as a nonprofit rather than as an independent-expenditure committee, so it's not required to file an annual report until March 2013—a legal twist that exploits a loophole in the state's campaign-finance disclosure laws and allows the backers to remain in the shadows until after the November election.
It appears that the group is still taxiing up and down the runway and has yet to get into the air. So far, all it's managed to do is set up a webpage and distribute an inaccurate "Fact Sheet" that candidates don't want to talk about in specifics unless they're going to dismiss it. Even Ally Miller, a Tea Party organizer running for the Board of Supervisors who first brought it to our attention, didn't want to get into the details when we tried to follow up with her. (Ally, BTW, is really unhappy with us; more on that later.)
We had some suspicions that Joe Higgins, a radio talk-show host and columnist for Inside Tucson Business (which, like the Tucson Weekly, is published by Wick Communications), might know something about Arizonans for a Brighter Future for a couple of reasons.No. 1, Higgins is helping Miller's campaign. No. 2, half of the four nongovernmental links on Arizonans for a Brighter Future's website lead to sites that Higgins is involved with—namely, his blog, Tucson Choices, and his radio show, Wake Up Tucson. And No. 3, Arizonans for a Brighter Future ran ads on his radio show.
So when we were first looking into Arizonans for a Brighter Future, we asked Higgins if he knew who was behind the organization.
"I don't know," Higgins told us. "I'd love to find out."
Rod Pace, the CEO of Rosemont Copper, also denied involvement with Arizonans for a Brighter Future when we asked him about it, although he said he'd heard some of their radio ads.
"We've been accused of supporting every candidate, of putting money down," Pace said. "Our focus is building our operation. From a personal standpoint, yeah, we do support people who support the mine."
THE SILENT TREATMENT
Speaking of Arizonans for a Brighter Future: In the wake of our reporting on the mysterious nonprofit, Republican Ally Miller has evidently blackballed your Skinny scribe, Jim Nintzel.
Miller, who is in a four-way Republican primary in the race to replace Ann Day on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, was the candidate who tried to sell us on the bogus claim that $345 million in transportation dollars couldn't be accounted for. When we suggested her allegation was inaccurate, Miller told us that it looked legit to her, based on her extensive experience in reading budgets.
We said we'd look into that and get back to her. But when we called and emailed her four days before our deadline to follow up, Miller didn't take us up on the chance to further discuss Arizonans for a Brighter Future.
Nonetheless, she was evidently upset by the story, because shortly after it broke last Wednesday, July 18, Miller gave us quite the tongue-lashing on John C. Scott's afternoon radio show.
Miller complained that rather than looking into a budget item that included a $27 million transfer out of the county's transportation budget, we "did a hit piece ... without any response from me. He asked me for a response, and he did not get a response, and I think his reporting is dishonest, and I don't appreciate it. And it will be the last time I will do an interview with Mr. Nintzel."
So Miller herself admits that the Weekly—as we told her we would—tried to get her reaction to what we had found out about the claims of Arizonans for a Brighter Future, but she ducked the chance to discuss it further. We're not sure how that qualifies as dishonest, but when we called and emailed Miller earlier this week to find out if we were really going to get the silent treatment, she didn't get back to us—which we suppose we should take as a "yes."
We're also not entirely sure why she's mad at us. Sure, the story wasn't exactly flattering, but if we went out on a limb based on an anonymous email from a shadowy group, and then we looked dumb when the information turned out to be wrong, we'd be angry with the people who gave us the bad info, not the people who pointed out that we got suckered.
As for Miller's complaint that we didn't look into the $27 million transfer out of the transportation budget that she's so baffled by: We did check that out, and according to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, the money in question is being transferred to the county's capital-improvement fund, where it will be used for transportation projects. You know, the ones that Ally can't seem to find in the budget.
What's troubling about Miller at this point isn't her amusing fit of pique directed at us, but that she is willing to invoke the specter of scandal over budget details that she just doesn't understand. If she is indeed the budget expert that she's portraying herself as, it seems odd that she can't seem to read the county budget, and doesn't appear capable of making a few phone calls before making baseless allegations.
Either she doesn't know as much about accounting as she claims to, or she's willing to distort the facts to stir up voters. Neither option makes for a responsible elected official.
We sure hope that mentioning all of this doesn't lead to any awkward moments at this week's District 1 forum.
That's right: All four candidates—Miller, former Arizona Republican Party chairman Mike Hellon, state lawmaker Vic Williams and conservative Stuart McDaniel—are squaring off at a debate sponsored by the Pima County Tea Party Patriots at 6 p.m., Thursday, July 26, at the Oro Valley Library, 1305 W. Naranja Drive.
The Pima County Tea Party Patriots will also be hosting a debate between Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, a Republican who has represented District 4 since 1997, and his GOP opponent, Sean Collins, at 6 p.m., next Thursday, Aug. 2, at Rita Ranch's Cottonwood Elementary School, 9950 E. Rees Loop.