The only known member of a shadow group that gave the Arizona Republican Party more than $100,000 earlier this year has refused demands by an investigator to turn over a list of individual contributors, saying the money was spent at his "own, sole discretion."
Last week, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Capt. Joel Fox sent a letter to an independent investigator stating that allegations against him and a group known as SCA (Sheriff's Command Association) are "false, inaccurate, and based solely on assumptions and innuendo."
Fox also insisted two contributions totaling $105,000 made earlier this year to the Republican Party were legal and shouldn't have been returned even though he has refused to provide documentation of individual donors to what amounts to a campaign committee as required by state election law.
Fox defended his decision to withhold the names by arguing that SCA is not a political committee because it "was not organized for the purpose of influencing an election" or advocating for or against an opponent or ballot measure.
"(State law) does not contain a definition that describes SCA, and therefore, SCA is not required to register as a political action committee," Fox wrote. "SCA has not participated in any political activity other than contributions to the Arizona Republican Party, which were subsequently returned, and is therefore not required to register as a political action committee, nor file campaign finance reports."
In response, attorney Jeffrey Messing, who was hired as a third-party investigator by Maricopa County, responded to Fox by certified mail Nov. 24 to ask a second time for documentation about SCA donors and expenses for the past three years. If Fox refuses, he could face fines totaling at least $315,000, Messing wrote.
Questions about the SCA contributions arose after a Capitol Times investigation prompted the state Democratic Party to file a complaint Oct. 14 accusing the state Republican Party of accepting an anonymous, illegal campaign contribution.
The complaint sparked the involvement of the secretary of state, the Attorney General's Office and Maricopa County, which retained Messing's law firm, Poli & Ball, to lead the investigation because the SCA contributions were used to benefit the re-election campaigns of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Fox's identity was revealed by the Yellow Sheet, a sister publication of the Capitol Times, after his name was listed on two checks made out to the Republican Party. But he has refused to give up the names of other SCA contributors despite at least two certified letters from investigators and the Republican Party officials requesting the names of individual donors who formed a coalition known as SCA.
Fox has refused requests to be interviewed by the Capitol Times.
State Republican Party officials also have refused to discuss details of the contributions since the complaint was filed. They did say, however, that the money was returned after SCA failed to provide a list of donors.
Meanwhile, Fox's letter broadly outlined the short history of SCA and the reasons it was formed – mainly to fight back against "unchecked" media that have misled the public about Arpaio and other Maricopa County sheriff's officials.
Fox noted that he set up the SCA account more than two years ago and has received deposits "intermittently." The purpose of the account, he wrote, was to refute media "lies" about MCSO and its employees with "publications, advertising, or other methods of mass communication."
Fox wrote that "several misleading, fallacious and malicious reports both in print and on television" were published after Arpaio's 2004 re-election, "making libelous allegations" against individual MCSO employees.
"Unfortunately, law enforcement officers are typically considered public figures and the media is left unchecked, free to write or say anything they please while claiming a First Amendment right to free speech. Their lies are protected by the U.S. Constitution," he wrote.
SCA has no formal leadership or membership, and its money is "spent under my sole discretion," Fox wrote.
The only known expenditures made by SCA are a pair of checks written to the Arizona Republican Party earlier this year. On Aug. 21 and Sept. 10, the organization made contributions to the GOP totaling $105,000.
According to the complaint, the money was used by the state Republican Party to pay for television ads attacking the character of a pair of Democrats running for Maricopa County offices – Tim Nelson, a candidate for county attorney, and sheriff candidate Dan Saban. Both ads were criticized as distasteful, and one had to be pulled from the airwaves after local television stations refused to run it.
On the state Republican Party's finance report, the party called SCA an "unincorporated association of individuals," but provided no other information.
Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen told the ~Capitol Times~ on Oct. 9 that the party was unable to provide more details on the SCA contributions because the group had not provided the information required by law. "They still say they're going to give it to us, but they haven't yet," he had said.
The next day, Pullen sent a certified letter to Fox and SCA requesting donor information. There was no response, so the Republican Party returned the money Oct. 18, Pullen wrote in an Oct. 31 letter to the secretary of state.
The Democratic Party had also filed the complaint with Secretary of State Jan Brewer, who determined there is reasonable cause to believe the state Republican Party violated state campaign finance laws. She forwarded the matter to Attorney General Terry Goddard, whose office is conducting an investigation.
Had he disclosed the names of donors to Pullen, Fox reasoned, he would have broken a law that prohibits one person making donations to a political committee in the name of another, as the SCA donors had no idea their contributions would be directed to the Republican Party.
In a brief response, though, Messing said SCA meets the legal standard for a political committee, even though it was not recorded as such with any public agency. As such, he noted, Fox is required to provide information about its donors and expenditures.
"Whatever the original intent, once you made the decision to contribute SCA funds to the Arizona Republican Party, you transformed SCA into a political committee," Messing wrote.
That, he continued, means Fox is subject to the record-keeping requirements of campaign finance law. Messing asked Fox, as de facto treasurer of SCA, to provide the identities of all donors and copies of checks or receipts for contributions and expenditures for the past three years.
Messing requested the documents by Dec. 1, and noted that a failure to comply with state laws could subject Fox to a civil penalty of up to three times the amount of money SCA has received or expended.