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Taxing debate: Groups spar over ballot props

Tom Jenney, president of Americans for Prosperity, Arizona chapter.

Tom Jenney, president of Americans for Prosperity, Arizona chapter.

A well-known tax watchdog group says a new campaign urging voters to oppose all 10 ballot measures this November is misleading because it is being run by a left-leaning organization masquerading as an anti-tax group.

Tom Jenney and his Americans for Prosperity group said it’s deceptive for the organization, Arizona Taxpayers Association, to urge voters to cast ballots in opposition of the measures under the guise of protecting taxpayer interests because it has ties to Democratic operatives.

“Were trying to make sure that everybody understands that this organization is a sham organization and it’s basically designed to muddy the waters and try to give the impression that taxpayers are not in favor of several very important ballot propositions,” Jenney said Oct. 1 at a press conference that attracted mostly supporters of his group.

But the lawyer representing Arizona Taxpayers Association says it’s arrogant for Jenney and others to feel they have ownership of what is right or wrong for the taxpayer, or to imply they have exclusive rights to use “taxpayer” in the name.

“They have their particular view of who is and who is not a taxpayer,” said attorney Sam Coppersmith, a former Democratic congressman. “They think they own that word. They think only they have some sort of patent on anger at the government. I don’t think so.”

The Arizona Taxpayers Association has actually been around since 2006 as a limited-liability corporation, according to state Corporation Commission records. It was formed by Democratic strategist and Arizona Guardian publisher Bob Grossfeld, and union leader Jim McLaughlin.

Only recently did it establish a campaign to oppose the ballot measures, and was inspired to do so after the January U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that allows corporations to spend freely on campaigns, Coppersmith said.

The group began posting signs statewide that urges voters to reject the 10 ballot measures this November.

The Arizona Taxpayers Association originally filed paperwork for the campaign on Sept. 27 as an independent expenditure committee. But the Secretary of State’s office informed Coppersmith that the group would need to file a separate campaign committee for each ballot proposition it was campaigning against. Coppersmith said he has been busy filing new paperwork, and the proper filings were finished Oct. 1.

Jenney sent out a press release Sept. 30, claiming that the Arizona Taxpayers Association “apparently” did not properly register with the Secretary of State before conducting its political activities.

Secretary of State spokesman Matt Benson said Oct. 1 that all of the groups filings are complete and properly registered. No complaint about the group has been filed, he said. Benson said it’s common for the office to advise campaigns about proper filing procedures if the staff sees initial errors.

Jenney pressed his point about the opposition group at a press conference held at the Goldwater Institute. About 20 people attended, most of whom appeared to be affiliated with, or supportive of, Jenney’s Americans for Prosperity.

He said he is particularly interested in seeing the passage of three ballot measures, which his group views as necessary to protect taxpayers: Proposition 106, the Arizona Health Care Freedom Act; Proposition 107, The Arizona Civil Rights Initiative; and Proposition 113, Save Our Secret Ballot.

“We’re of the opinion that some of the ballot props are actually worthwhile and very much of interest to taxpayers,” Jenney said.

Besides Jenney and a few other speakers, much of the press conference allowed a platform for speakers to opine about ballot measures they favored, such as sweeping Land Conservation and First Things First money or supporting a Constitutional right to hunt and fish.

Rep. Rick Murphy also attended, saying the group’s tactics are “deceptive.”

“I just think it’s unfortunate that a group that claims to be in favor taxpayers is now coming out against propositions that are designed to protect taxpayers,” Murphy said. “I think if you can’t make your case in an honest way then you don’t deserve to win.”

Coppersmith said Grossfeld and McLaughlin are not running the campaign and had resigned from the corporation earlier this year.

The campaign chairman is listed as Mike Vespoli, and the treasurer is Steve Allsopp.

Coppersmith said the intent is to “stop government in its tracks,” he said of what the group believes are too many Constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

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