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Quelland Quandry: Who’s telling the truth?

Last fall, Carol Vandercook and other Democrats in District 10 received a copy of a contract between Valley political consultant Larry Davis and House candidate Doug Quelland that raised suspicions that Quelland had failed to report critical campaign finance information to state election officials.

After Quelland, a Republican, won a close race against Democrat incumbent Jackie Thrasher on Nov. 4, Vandercook, with the help of an attorney, complained to election officials that Quelland had failed to report thousands of dollars in payments to Davis for campaign services and that he deserves to be thrown out of office for the violation.

Now, as the Citizens Clean Elections Commission considers the complaint against Quelland after a five-month investigation, Vandercook is staying out of sight. She has avoided media interviews and the public spotlight after giving a brief interview to the Arizona Capitol Times in November.

Quelland, however, isn’t as fortunate; he has been under the spotlight since the legislative session started in January when the evidence against him started to pile up.

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission has initiated an investigation, subpoenaed bank records, deposed the lawmaker, and acquired a mounting pile of information the agency’s executive director believes is enough to warrant removing Quelland from office.

Now, commission members are considering fining Quelland tens of thousands of dollars and giving him the distinction of becoming the second Arizona lawmaker to be removed for violating spending limits for publicly funded candidates.

For Davis, the owner of Intermedia Public Relations, the situation is less perilous. The aspiring legislative political consultant has become his first successful customer’s worst enemy by testifying against Quelland and providing damaging evidence in a battle he says he is waging to protect his own career.

“My character, my integrity and my reputation has been attacked,” Davis said. “I will go to any extent, especially if I know I have proven that someone has lied against me, to defend my character, to defend the character of my employees and the company.”

Commission members have balked at a request from CCEC Executive Director Todd Lang to find that Quelland violated a series of campaign finance laws, including the most serious charge of overspending his campaign finances by more than 10 percent, which warrants removal of public officials who campaigned using public financing.

The Clean Elections Commission’s April 30 meeting to address the charges against the north Phoenix lawmaker was adjourned without action, as commissioners stumbled over what Lang would described as a “factual dispute” between Quelland and Davis over the length of the contract and the nature of their relationship.

Quelland maintains he terminated the March 2007 contract with the consultant within days of its signing and that all payments he made to Davis’ firm Intermedia Public Relations were for advertising for Quelland’s businesses, not campaign services.

Davis, on the other hand, has told the commission he carried out his contractual campaign obligations and received payment from Quelland in the form of checks and free rent at an office located in a north Phoenix strip mall owned by the lawmaker.

The conflicting positions of Quelland and Davis have given commission members reason to tread carefully, said CCEC Chairman Gary Scaramazzo.

“It’s a very difficult proposition because you are basically looking at two people and thinking somebody’s not telling the truth,” he said. “Their memory is so far off that they’re not in touch with what is going on, or somebody is just outright falsifying information to us. That’s been the frustrating part.”

Commissioner Lori Daniels said she doubted Quelland’s claim that Davis was a volunteer “hanger-on” throughout the 2008 campaign.

Commissioner Louis Hoffman said he was troubled by the fact that Davis was still unable to prove that Quelland had received invoices demanding payment for the campaign services.

Likewise, Quelland was also unable to prove that he had delivered to Davis any notice of termination of contract, said Hoffman, before adding, “Clearly somebody here is lying.”

The trouble for Quelland started less than two weeks after the 2008 election. The north Phoenix businessman received 22,656 votes to capture one of District 10′s two seats in the Arizona House of Representatives, beating Thrasher by a razor-thin 553 votes.

The Nov. 12 complaint filed by Vandercook included a copy of the contract between Quelland and Intermedia Public Relations.

The contract called for Davis to provide services such as consulting, database and Web site management, fundraising and polling for Quelland’s campaign. It required an initial $2,000 payment to be made to Davis’ firm by May 2007, as well as subsequent monthly payments of $1,000.

To date, Vandercook has been secretive about how she acquired the copy of the contract. She did not return several phone calls during the past two weeks.

Her attorney, Jim Barton, who works for Phoenix law firm Perkins, Coie, Brown and Bain, also is staying quiet on the details.

“I’m not willing to talk about those sorts of details on how she got the information,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times.

As for the investigation that she started, he replied: “She’s glad the commission took it seriously and they’re doing a thorough investigation.”

Thrasher, who beat Quelland in 2006 by 231 votes to earn the second District 10 House seat, has disavowed any involvement with the complaint. She said in November that anonymous e-mails and letters detailing the allegations against her Republican competitor had been circulated in the district.

Davis was in contact with the commission within 10 days of the filing of the complaint, but his full-fledged cooperation began in early-December when he sent the commission a letter claiming that he performed a variety of campaign services throughout Quelland’s 2008 campaign for office, including securing endorsements, advertising for campaign vents, collecting nominating signatures and compiling voter information from the Arizona Republican Party.

By mid-December, Vandercook’s complaint and Davis’ statements prompted the commission to vote to begin a formal investigation into the lawmaker’s 2008 campaign for office. Davis had told members he could prove he was paid $11,000 from a business account operated by Quelland. The rest of the contract was paid through free rent for office space located in Quelland’s strip mall.

On Dec. 31, Assistant Attorney General Tanja Shipman issued subpoenas to seven banks used by Davis’ firm – JP Morgan Chase, Compass Bank, Copper Star Bank, National Bank of Arizona, Community Bank of Arizona, West Valley National Bank and Western National Bank – demanding statements and checks relating to Quelland and his Q-Land Enterprises, Inc.

The subpoenas produced copies of seven $1,000 checks from Quelland’s business to Davis’ firm Intermedia Public Relations. And on Jan. 16, the lawmaker faced an official deposition. Davis received the same treatment in March.

Some of Quelland’s sworn testimony piqued the interest of Lang, who has questioned Quelland’s claim he did not recall several breakfast fundraisers in 2007 that were organized by Davis.

Lang rattled off a list of what he described as evidence that the contract was never terminated; that Intermedia Public Relations arranged for several printing projects for campaign T-shirts, fliers and magnets, and that some of the purchases were completed by Davis’ firm with a credit card supplied by Quelland’s campaign.

“He was more than a hanger-on,” said Lang, speaking of Davis. “His company had (Quelland’s) credit card.”

But the latest bombshell dropped by Davis occurred May 4, when the consultant delivered to the commission what appeared to be a photocopied check for $2,000 dated May 1, in addition to an account statement from Intermedia Public Relations showing the deposit.

That discovery seems to counter Quelland’s denial that he never made an initial payment on the contract. He told the commission at the April 30 hearing the lack of that critical piece of evidence bolstered his argument that he had terminated the agreement with Davis’ Intermedia Public Relations before payment was rendered.

The lawmaker’s defense to date has painted a complex picture of his relationship with Davis, who he has described as a once-regular customer in his now-closed coffee shop that clung to him in an attempt to broaden his business to include legislative campaign consulting.

Quelland has maintained he ended his campaign consulting contract with Davis almost immediately after signing the agreement in March 2007 after a dispute over campaign strategy.

Yet, the relationship persevered, and Quelland said he still felt comfortable enough to hire the consultant for menial advertising tasks and to sit through conversations of Davis’ political advice.

Business pressures also entered into the mix, Quelland told commissioners, adding he lent Davis storage space in his mall in while waiting for another business in the mall to vacate the premises – a gesture he hoped would help secure Davis as a mall tenant while the economy struggles.

Quelland described his $7,000 in payments to Intermedia Public Relations for advertising work as a modest sum given the fact that he has spent up to three times that amount in a single year to boost his businesses’ sales and public recognition.

The lawmaker described Davis as sort of a jack-of-all-trades who washed and detailed cars Quelland and his family owned. Quelland said the relationship soured when a check written to him by Davis had bounced and the would-be consultant became embarrassed and angered and sought to “sink me, to do me in.”

Quelland has yet to personally offer a defense of the latest documents delivered to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. His attorney, Lee Miller, who also represents the Arizona Republican Party, said the documents are surfacing suspiciously late into the investigation.

“We’ve been kicking this around for six months,” said Miller. “It strikes me as odd that a central piece of information takes six months to show up.”

The commission is expected to resume its investigation and to vote whether to sanction and remove Quelland on May 15.

The renewed possibility that the commission could be forced by law to remove a democratically elected representative brings up troubling memories for Clean Elections Chairman Gary Scaramazzo.

Scaramazzo, who served as the mayor of Page for 10 years, is the only member of the five-person commission to have participated in the removal of Rep. David Burnell Smith, a Scottsdale Republican found to have overspent his 2004 primary election campaign by 17 percent.

The commissioner said the experience was so nerve-wracking that he voted in 2005 to remove Smith in order to leave Smith’s fate in the hands of the court system, where a legal challenge could determine whether the commission indeed has the authority to remove elected officials.

“It’s something that weighs very heavy on my mind – that the responsibility could fall on the shoulders of the commission to go ahead and make that decision,” he said. “After the Mr. Smith thing, I was hoping I would never have to deal with another of these.”

Smith appealed the commission’s decision to an administrative law judge, and was dealt a defeat. His subsequent appeals to the Maricopa County Superior Court, the Arizona Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court produced the same result.

On Jan. 26, 2006, Smith was ordered by the Arizona Supreme Court to vacate his office by midnight, making him the first lawmaker in the United States to be removed for campaign finance violations.

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