UPDATE: 7/8. A hit piece mailer on two of the candidates has shown up in mailboxes today. It is not from any of the campaigns directly but rather from a political hit piece organization with the innocuous sounding name “Arizona Residents Council”. It is listed as an “education” focused nonprofit. This is the common tool for hiding political spending. If they do some work they can call “education”, like stating why you should be for or against this or that issue, then they can call themselves that. But it also allows them to be nonprofit and as such they don’t have to reveal who funds them. So then they do a certain amount of political hit work like this using funds often from big national interests who spread it down the chain to do hit pieces that help local candidates and issues, and no one ever knows who paid for it. That is exactly what dark money and outside influence is. It is exactly why I wanted to get all of the candidates on record as to whether they knew anything about any of this kind of material coming up that would indirectly benefit their campaigns, and what they had to say about it. Do they think it’s okay, or terrible or what. And I did get almost all of the candidates on record on that issue, as you’ll see below. But this kind of thing is exactly why this kind of investigation into local candidate funding is essential.
I reached out to all of the Prescott city council and mayoral candidates to ask some questions, mostly about funding. These are questions I hadn’t seen asked in quite the same way and reported on.
Required financial reporting can fall short in three ways. One, the last financial report comes out after the election. Two, who is actually behind it can still be hidden. Say some organization with a wonderful name like “Citizens for Freedom” donates, but that doesn’t reveal that their funds come primarily from some national or radical source. Three, independent organizations.
Here’s a quick refresher on independent organizations and why we, here, in our little local election, should be concerned about them. Two election cycles ago when Greg Mengarelli was first running for mayor in competition with Jean Wilcox and Mary Beth Hrin, an independent organization, not part of any of the campaign committees, put out big, glossy mailer cards that were hit pieces on Ms. Hrin and Ms. Wilcox. They distorted their records on past issues and were of the sort that have an overall very ugly, negative approach.
The one against Ms. Hrin turned out to have been created by a PR firm in Phoenix. The man whose firm it was had worked with national politicians and on conservative political issues and so had been used by such contacts to do related work in the past. Ms. Hrin sued because the claims in the mailer were false. That organization settled out of court which prevented the case from proceeding to where the funders of that organization might have been revealed. The whole episode fits the very definition of dark, outside money. (See https://www.dcourier.com/news/2017/dec/02/lawsuit-over-campaign-flyersends-settlement/).
For all three of these reasons, it’s worthwhile to have candidates’ statements on questions like, have they or will they accept donations from organizations that voters would consider outside influence? Have they or would they accept donations from organizations where they don’t know where the funding for it actually came from? Do they know of any independent organizations affecting their campaign and if so what is their statement about that? If it comes out later that any campaign did accept such help it’s worthwhile to have their statements on their position about such help on record.
There were three additional questions. One on whether they have association with any groups not already declared that would be informative to voters. That is, do they associate with any radical left or right groups or any that voters would want to know about. One on whether they thought Prescott voters would be in favor of a ballot initiative to ban dark money in Arizona elections. One on whether they had anything that would likely create a conflict of interest that wasn’t obvious or already declared. Also, three of the candidates had questions on issues specific to them.
All of the candidates responded and were very forthcoming except for Mr. Blair and Mr. Mengarelli. Results for each of the candidates follows in alphabetical order.
Didn’t respond at all to two ways of trying to get his input. So for the purposes of this report, for all of the questions above, the result is the answers are unknown.
Nothing he could think of that should be a conflict of interest.
No surprising affiliations, just veterans and education groups. He was more forceful about who he did not want to be associated with. He volunteered that regarding Prescott Indivisible he had no interest in being associated with them. He finds Black Lives Matter to be communist oriented based on what he knows of the founder’s beliefs, and thinks association with it would violate his oath to uphold the constitution. After armed intimidators showed up on the courthouse square, a reporter from Phoenix asked if he was associated with the Proud Boys and he said he knows nothing about them and has no association with them.
About a ban on dark money, he said he was wary of such a ban and that he can see something on both sides of it. He is concerned that people or businesses that give money might need to stay anonymous to avoid backlash from people who disagree, but he also sees a problem with dark money hiding who is behind political actions.
His funding he said was all small donations. He didn’t think he knew all who donated. Said he had sent back a couple of donations connected with his pledge to not accept donations from developers or contractors. Even people in the building trade if they were large and had much at stake in city business he’d be reluctant. The only “outside” money was from friends and family from outside the area who had given donations up to “three digits”. No awareness of activity by independent organizations.
Nothing that should be a conflict of interest other than that she and her husband own a number of rentals both in the city and around the area. She said for instance if street repair came up in front of one of those rentals she might have to recuse herself from that.
No surprising affiliations, just the Arizona CPA organization.
She said she didn’t know much about a dark money ban. As far as how voters might feel she noted a lot of people in the area tend to be for less government restrictions. Her own feelings were that she was, “absolutely for full disclosure, all details of every penny”.
Funding for her campaign has come from her own spending and some donations from family. No donations from organizations or businesses. If offered money from outside interests she would not accept. She said her largest personal donation was $2,000 from local doctor and real estate developer Dr. Askari.
Ms. Hall has had some questions arise about her length of residence. For instance, the Daily Courier reported that in response to their question of how long she had, “lived within Prescott city limits” she responded 22 years. But when she applied for the seat that Councilwoman Billie Orr was leaving, she was denied application because she hadn’t been registered in the city for at least one year. She just reached that one-year mark in June. She explained that she had lived in the city somewhat longer but hadn’t moved her registration, but she also said she’d spent most of her time in the area living in Country Club down towards Dewey, not in Prescott.
No surprising groups, just civic groups.
No conflicts of interest beyond that all sorts of local people are sometimes customers of his jewelry store (including, to a small extent, this writer).
Regarding dark money he felt he would need to know the details of any initiative but that he was sure Prescott voters want to know, and have a right know, where campaign funds come from.
His campaign funds are all from small local donors. He would not accept from outside organizations. He had one friend in San Diego send him a donation cut from that friend’s business account which he had to return because of the complications of taking money from a business.
After three attempts in various ways to contact Mr. Mengarelli he had a campaign volunteer, Pamela Jones, email me. The response was that funding issues had been asked about in various forums and they felt that should be enough. Also that the first required financial report would be out soon. I responded that some of the funding specifics I was asking about I had not seen reported elsewhere. Also that financial reports can still leave some things unknown, as described at the top of this piece.
Her second response stated the campaign, “will not be responding to any questions from you concerning campaign funding”. She did qualify that with, “until the Second Quarter Report is filed with the City of Prescott on July 15”. That’s part of the problem with the report system. July 15th is over a week after the start of early voting.
She continued that they consider me a biased journalist because I’d written on what is public knowledge, that the mayor is wearing two conflicting hats at once, as mayor and as business developer for the rodeo grounds events efforts. And she stated that as far as finances might be covered at least by the Daily Courier, that they hoped they would only report on the official financial reports.
It is true that I especially wanted to ask Mr. Mengarelli about funding for a couple of reasons. It was during his first mayoral campaign that an independent organization played a role and I wanted to ask him if he was aware of any similar efforts coming up, if he would approve of them, and how he felt about such a possibility in the current campaign. Second, his campaigns each try to make a bigger, splashier impression than previous mayoral races or other candidates. Currently he has an entire semitrailer sign on Highway 89 North, has sent out a large, glossy post card against his opponent, and has a lot of TV and radio advertising. All fine, but all disproportionate to other mayoral races and candidates and likely makes some voters curious. So, are any organizations contributing to this? Between now and the final report would he be accepting donations from organizations with business with the city, or outside organizations? And the rest of these questions asked of all of the candidates? To all of that, they didn’t want to answer for this report.
Not part of any national or notable organizations. He pointed out he is not a member of Save the Dells, is a member of Citizens Water Advisory Group, and a member of the Citizens Tax Committee.
The only potential conflicts he could think of would have to do with his owning two properties. He has an office building he created a real estate holding company just for it, for liability protection. His financial consulting service is not doing work with anyone in city government or heavily involved with city related work, and if any such approached him now he would have to decline.
On a dark money initiative he said it would depend on the details but he brought up the hit piece mailer on Mary Beth Hrin and said he thinks Prescott voters don’t want that or hidden or outside influences.
He knows who each of his donors are and they’re all small donors. The biggest ones were family or family friends. He returned one donation that he was uncomfortable with because it would seem like an influencing donation. He noted that Save the Dells has endorsed him but that he didn’t know they were going to do that.
No group affiliations other than nature groups like the Audubon Society which he joined when still a kid. Also, the Citizens Water Advisory Group.
No conflicts he can anticipate other than anything that would have to do with his Bird Barn store.
He thinks Prescott voters would be against dark money in campaign and stated he is too.
He has kept a personal record of all donors and they are all small individual donations. He would not accept money from an outside organization.
Save the Dells has endorsed him but that was not something coordinated with him.
He is a veteran and said he works with Three Ranger Foundation which describes itself as, “empowering Ranger Regiment veterans and affiliates to achieve lifelong success through personalized mentorship”.
He’s also involved with Omphalos which he described as helping get psychological and support services to victims of human trafficking. From the Omphalos.pro website they give this description, “At Omphalos we believe in social responsibility arising through purposeful and thoughtful stewardship of our country’s founding fathers’ beliefs and values upon which this great nation was built. We accept nothing less than that all people have the right to be free and the chance to seek and attain meaning, purpose, and moments of joy. Utilizing the great minds of this nation, we promise to pursue, with unwavering vigilance, physical and mental freedom for the enslaved, empowerment for the silenced, and increased resilience for those most in need, in addition to the focused targeting of those who choose to coerce, enslave, and silent the innocent!”
On dark money he said he doesn’t know much about it. He is aware some people worry that if their contributions are known they may be doxed, that is, their personal information known and then face backlash, but he thinks Prescott voters would generally be against dark money in politics.
On his campaign funding he said he didn’t know that much about it and that his treasurer tracks all of that. As to whether he had any funding from organizations or businesses or influence groups he said, “Not now”. He wouldn’t accept money from an outside group.
Grant was convicted for assisting in a robbery when he was 16. This is in public records. I verified it with him. He acknowledges it, says he doesn’t try to hide it, and sometimes talks to young kids about it to discourage their doing similar. Since then he has done military service and had no similar issues and to all appearances it seems to be one youthful mistake.
[Editor’s Note: Mr. Quezada’s rights were restored by the Court in 2008. He has lived in Prescott where he is raising a family and has run a small business for over a decade. There are no legal impediments to his service on the Prescott City Council.]