In the Dark
Who is funding the political committee running hit ads against Democrats? We'll probably never know
Revitalize Tucson, the independent committee working to drive up the negative perception of the Democratic incumbents in this year's city election, hammered Ward 2 Democrat Paul Cunningham last week with a robocall that said he was a "sexual predator."
The charge referenced a moment in San Diego three years ago, when a drunk Cunningham publicly propositioned a high-ranking city employee who worked in the City Manager's Office.
Cunningham says that calling him a sexual predator "goes a little too far.
"I think it's gutter politics," Cunningham says. "I stand by the service that I've done and I have faith that the voters of this community won't be influenced by this kind of garbage."
Christine Bauserman, who is chairing the Revitalize Tucson committee, said that calling Cunningham a sexual predator was fair game.
"What do you mean by gutter politics?" Bauserman asked. "Three city employees were essentially harassed by him."
Cunningham doesn't deny getting drunk and saying something offensive and stupid to a city employee during a San Diego junket sponsored by TREO. But he said he learned from the experience.
"I never made any hollow denials or lame excuses," Cunningham says. "I don't blame anyone but myself. It came at a very challenging time in my life, but that's not an excuse. The best I've done is try to keep my side of the street clean, day by day."
Cunningham notes that there were no claims against the city related to his boorish behavior and the incident forced him to sober up.
"I don't drink anymore," said Cunningham, who has been divorced and remarried in the three years since the incident.
Cunningham's Republican opponent, Kelly Lawton, did not return a phone call from the Weekly asking for his take on the robocall, but he has not raised the issue of Cunningham's indiscretion in previous interviews.
Carol West, the former Ward 2 councilwoman who is chairing Cunningham's campaign, recorded a robocall defending Cunningham.
West told the Weekly that Cunningham made a mistake but he's on the right track now.
"I have to tell you that Paul has made, I think, a good recovery," West says. "Yes, there were some things that happened back in 2011 that weren't so great. ... I think he has undergone treatment for alcoholism and he's gotten his life back on track and if we keep bringing up these things in the past, the person can't move on and be productive. I think people deserve a second chance."
The robocall was the latest initiative from Revitalize Tucson, which had previously put up billboards across the city critical of the three incumbent Democrats running for reelection this year: Cunningham, Ward 4's Shirley Scott and Ward 1's Regina Romero.
Revitalize Tucson is an independent campaign committee that has been funded—to the tune of roughly $50,000—by the Foundation for Responsible and Accountable Government, or FRAG, a nonprofit run by Bauserman and former state lawmaker Frank Antenori. As it turns out, Bauserman and Antenori are also running Revitalize Tucson.
"I like to campaign," Bauserman says. "I've been a campaign manager, I've run campaigns. And I wanted to get involved in the Tucson city election. Legally, to do that, I had to create a separate independent expenditure (committee) in the city of Tucson ... My foundation can't do political stuff."
As to who is funding FRAG: Well, that remains a mystery. Attorney Vince Rabago, a former chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party, tried to dig into who the contributors to FRAG were in a court case last week, but Bauserman told him during her testimony that it was "none of your business."
Pima County Superior Court Judge Gus Aragon agreed and blocked Rabago's efforts to uncover the donors.
Why create a new political committee run by the same people who run FRAG? Because the nonprofit FRAG isn't allowed to engage in political campaigning on behalf or in opposition to a candidate, although it is allowed to "educate" voters about issues.
But if FRAG provides grants to a political committee like Revitalize Tucson, then Revitalize Tucson can engage in political activity—even if the principal actors are the same in both groups. And on top of that, donors can remain anonymous and get themselves a nice tax deduction for their contribution. As Rabago sees it, it's a "carefully orchestrated shell game of concealment and the undeniable relationship between a dark-money corporation and a political committee."
Bauserman sees it as a triumph of the First Amendment and her freedom of speech.
"It was a First Amendment victory," Bauserman says.
New film explores the business practices of Hudbay Minerals, which hopes to build the open-pit Rosemont Mine in the Santa Rita Mountains
Investigative reporter John Dougherty has produced a new film on the new parent company of Rosemont Copper, the mining company that wants to put an open-pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.
Dougherty, who worked on the film with the support of mine opponent Farmers Investment Company, reveals details about troubles that Hudbay Minerals has had in Canada, Guatemala and Peru.
Hudbay acquired the Rosemont Mine last year from Augusta Resources, which laid the groundwork for the mine. The project is still awaiting approval of key permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is opposed by most local officials. The approval process has moved slowly, with the EPA in particular expressing concern about the impact on Southern Arizona waterways.
The film shows at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway.
Full disclosure: Dougherty is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Arizona Center for Investigative Journalism, which serves as the fiscal sponsor for your Skinny scribe's nonprofit organization, the Arizona Watchdog Alliance.
Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs Sunday morning at 8 a.m. on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on DirecTV, Dish and broadcast. The show also airs at 5 p.m. Sunday afternoons on KXCI, 91.3 FM and can be seen online at zonapolitics.com. This week's show features UA College of Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz and Edible Baja Arizona editor Megan Kimble, the author of Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food.