BY LINDA BENTLEY | APRIL 11, 2012
PACs declare war over property tax with campaign finance complaints
Citizens may want to hold on to their ballots until release of May 3 campaign finance reports
Photos by Linda Bentley
CAVE CREEK – Ballots for the May 15 special election will be mailed out on April 19 for this all-mail ballot. However, the pre-election campaign finance reports are not due until May 3, when citizens can see exactly who is funding each side of the property tax argument.
Publicity pamphlets should be in the mail by the end of this week.
Citizens will have ample time to hold on to their ballots until all that information is available.
Last week, Rob Papineau, chair of Citizens for Sustainable Fire Protection in Support of Question 1 Political Action Committee (Vote Yes PAC), filed two complaints with Town Clerk Carrie Dyrek against the No Tax PAC in Opposition of Question 1 (No Tax PAC) for campaign finance violations.
Both complaints assert the No Tax PAC is in violation of A.R.S. §§ 16-912.01, which states under Section A, “A political committee that makes an expenditure in connection with any literature or advertisement to support or oppose a ballot proposition shall disclose and, after Nov. 2, 2010, shall include on the literature or advertisement the words ‘paid for by,’ followed by the name of the committee that appears on its statement of organization or five hundred dollar threshold exemption statement, and shall also include in such literature or advertisement the four largest of its major funding sources as of the time the literature or advertisement is printed, recorded or otherwise produced for dissemination. If a political committee has fewer than four major funding sources, the committee shall disclose all major funding sources.”
Papineau’s first complaint states there is no disclosure statement on the No Tax PAC’s website and a flyer distributed by the No Tax PAC contained no disclosure statement.
His second complaint asserts the No Tax PAC’s signs are in violation of Section E of the same statute, which reads, “Any disclosure statement required by this section shall be printed clearly and legibly in a conspicuous manner in type at least as large as the majority of the printed text. For printed material that is delivered or provided by hand or by mail, the disclosure shall be printed in a font that is at least 3/32 inches tall in dark type on light background surrounded by a dark box.”
Papineau, a self-employed Mattco Tools sales representative, asked Dyrek to “take the appropriate steps to remedy these violations and compel the No Tax PAC accordingly to disclose funding sources for its campaign.”
Responding to the complaint, No Tax PAC Treasurer Adam Trenk stated the No Tax PAC did not pay for the hand bill and said they were printed without authorization by the PAC’s leadership by “a citizen who was soliciting donations presumably because he believes in our cause.”
Trenk, an attorney, claims the disclosure on the No Tax PAC’s signs complies with his interpretation of the statute, “being that the disclosure is the majority of the text it can be any size so long as it is readily legible.”
However, in 2006, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Jones strongly disagreed with that interpretation in Bentley v. Building Our Future (BOF) and stated, “Where a disclosure was present on BOF’s advertising, it was in a smaller typeface than the main text of the advertisement. Defendant argues that, because the disclosure contains more words than the main text of the ad, the disclosure itself constitutes the majority of the printed text. This interpretation leads to the absurd result that BOF’s disclosure could be virtually any size, as the disclosure will always be as large as itself. Such an interpretation tortures the plain meaning of the statute.”
The No Tax PAC has since erected new larger signs that appear to be fully compliant, while the Vote Yes PAC’s signs remain unchanged.
Trenk asked Dyrek to consider his response as a counter-complaint and said the Vote Yes PAC’s signs are in clear violation of the same statute Papineau cited in his complaint, stating the disclosure statement is neither legible nor conspicuous.
Pointing out the Vote Yes PAC is required to disclose its major funding sources, providing the PAC received any corporate donations of $5,000 or more, Trenk stated, “I suspect, based on what I know about the cost of signs and posts, the number of them they have out, and who I know to be supporting their cause, that they are in violation of these provisions as well. Unfortunately I am unable to confirm that until they file their finance report.”
Trenk also accused the Vote Yes PAC of deliberately covering up the No Tax Pac’s signs in violation of A.R.S. § 16-1019(A), a class 2 misdemeanor and included a photo of a Vote Yes PAC sign installed directly in front of a No Tax PAC sign.
Meanwhile the warring factions between proponents and opponents of the proposed property tax continue voicing their opinions on the matter.
Ken Gaskins, a retired attorney is the treasurer of the Vote YES PAC. He is also president of the Rancho Mañana Home Owners Association, which re-urged fire protection as a property tax, despite several town councils previously rejecting the idea.
In any event, HOAs are free to negotiate a fire contract with Rural/Metro Fire Department and charge property owners via their annual fees.
Proponents argue they prefer a property tax because it can then be taken as a tax deduction.
However, as the IRS reported for tax year 2009, only 32.5 percent of those filing individual returns itemized deductions.
The opposition is clear the question is about implementing a property tax, to which Creekers have been adamantly opposed in the past, with the exception of the purchase of Spur Cross Recreation Area.
It is important to also note, Spur Cross, which was paid off this year, was refinanced several years ago in order to pay the debt off six years early and rid citizens of what they were promised would be the only town-imposed property tax they’d ever see.
Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch, chair of the No Tax PAC, pointed out he, Mayor Vincent Francia and Councilman Dick Esser, who voted against sending the question to voters, are the most senior members of council and grasp the history on this issue.
When he served on council, Trenk voted against it along with former Councilman Ralph Mozilo, Francia, Bunch and Esser.
Bunch says a property tax will unfairly charge vacant land (assessed at 16 percent) and commercial property (assessed at 19.5 percent) owners at a premium in order to subsidize the cost of fire protection for residential (assessed at 10 percent) property owners, while placing a lien on property, with the threat of loss, if the owner cannot afford such a substantial increase in taxes.
Since approximately 85 percent of all calls to Rural/Metro are for emergency medical, Bunch believes charging vacant land owners a 60 percent premium is beyond unreasonable.
And because the vast majority of vacant land owners are not Cave Creek residents, they are unable to vote on the matter.