Cronkite Header

Cronkite News has moved to a new home at Use this site to search archives from 2011 to May 2015. You can search the new site for current stories.

Obscure Arizona political group now spending against Obama

Email this story
Print this story

PHOENIX – An obscure Arizona nonprofit group that provided most of the funding for campaigns against Propositions 121 and 204 has contributed $1.4 million toward a phone campaign opposing President Barack Obama, according to Federal Election Commission records.

That spending is noted in daily reports that Americans for Responsible Leadership filed with the FEC from Oct. 18 through Oct. 28.

The same filings also show approximately $66,000 going toward phone calls opposing Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat running for re-election to Utah’s congressional delegation.

The group, which lists a Phoenix post office box as its address, filed with the IRS in such a way that it doesn’t have to disclose the sources of the money it contributes.

Its filing with the Arizona Corporation Commission lists three Arizona businessmen as directors, and an annual report filed with the state Oct. 20 lists Kirk Adams, former speaker of the Arizona State House of Representatives, as president and a member of the board of directors.

Cronkite News Service tried unsuccessfully to reach Adams and other directors for comment on Americans for Responsible Leadership’s contributions and mission.

In Arizona, the group has contributed $750,000 to No New Taxes, No on 204, the main group opposing Proposition 204. That measure would create a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax to benefit education, transportation and human services.

Americans for Responsible Leadership has contributed $450,000 to Save Our Vote, the main group opposing Proposition 121, which would eliminate partisan primaries for state and federal offices in favor of a single primary involving all candidates.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a Republican who is the public face of Save Our Vote, said that although more transparency in campaign finance is certainly something to strive for, he has no qualms about his group accepting money from groups with anonymous donors.

“I think the better case for decrying donations to an initiative campaign is if the money was coming in and you couldn’t identify the group either,” he said. “I think that would be far greater cause for concern.”

Americans for Responsible Leadership has drawn headlines – and a lawsuit – in California over an $11 million contribution to a group leading the push for a ballot proposition that would ban the use of union dues for political activity and against a measure that would raise the income tax for those with higher incomes.

Most of the group’s contributions have been distributed after a reorganization in mid-September.

According to an annual report filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission on Oct. 20, Adams and Taylor Searle are now listed as directors along with the group’s three founders.

Adams, a Republican from Mesa, recently ran a losing primary campaign in Arizona’s 5th Congressional District to replace Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, who is running for U.S. Senate. Searle is a CPA who works for Scottsdale-based The Wolff Co.

Two of the founders, Valley beverage industry figure Steve Nickolas and former congressional candidate Eric Wnuck, were named secretary and treasurer, respectively. The other founder, state Republican Party chairman candidate Robert Graham, wasn’t named to an officer position.

All of the personnel moves are recorded as having occurred on Sept. 13.

In California, Americans for Responsible Leadership is the subject of a lawsuit brought by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

The suit states that ARL’s $11 million donation to the Small Business Action Committee was in violation of state campaign finance rules. These require a nonprofit to disclose donors if those donors have reason to believe their contributions will be used politically.

In advance of a hearing scheduled for Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court, a judge issued a temporary ruling Tuesday in favor of the commission.

Common Cause of California, which made the initial complaint, celebrated the ruling.

“I think it’s safe to say we’re ecstatic that we can get a court win and start to open up the books on Americans for Responsible Leadership to try to see who is behind it,” said Philip Ung, a spokesman.