The Arizona Constitution, Article 7 section 12, charges the Legislature with the duty to “maintain the purity of elections.” Arizona case law has held that attempting to place a “diversionary candidate” on the ballot is illegal. A “diversionary candidate” is one who is in the race solely to divert votes from a particular candidate so as to give an advantage to another candidate. The recent lawsuit to have Olivia Cortes removed from the race was filed to honor the rule of law.
The trial court found that she had been placed on the ballot to divert Hispanic votes and was therefore a “sham” candidate. She was not a serious candidate, but a willing pawn in a sleazy scheme. She is gone, although her name remains on the ballot. But more important questions than simply whether Cortes was a sham candidate remain unresolved.
The lawsuit served as a tool to remove a sham candidate. But the ethical questions the lawsuit raises are larger than simply the question of whether Cortes should be a candidate in this historic recall election. How is it that a group of anonymous people, who are behind this sham candidacy, remain anonymous? With all the publicity about the matter, why must there be calls for investigations? All that needs to happen is for the people responsible for this stain on our state to come forward, confess their guilt and apologize to the voters. But that won’t happen.
The fact that there are secret conspiring actors who are unquestionably supporters of Russell Pearce, and that they chose to remain anonymous, tells us that they recognize that what they have done is illegal, or at least embarrassing. And that should bother us. It should bother us because if a candidate and/or his campaign advisers and leading supporters can engage in skullduggery like this, they can do the same once in office.
Persons who are willing to attempt to deceive voters can attempt to make backroom deals and pull special favors for their friends; they can line their pockets in exchange for promises to offer bills and vote a certain way. People with political connections who lack integrity like this can engage in piracy and favoritism and retaliations.
Concern about this is the main issue that this recent bit of political intrigue should focus on. Who paid to have petitions for Cortes to be circulated? Cortes says she doesn’t know. Greg Western, Cortes’ campaign “everything,” testified he didn’t know. Who paid for Cortes’ signs? Who else circulated petitions to gather signatures from among their friends? Who asked his family members to help with Cortes’ campaign? Who told the boss of the hired petition circulators to tell people that a signature for Cortes would help Pearce? Who set up and paid for Cortes’ website and wrote the press releases? Who coordinated all this? Someone did — someone who knows how to run a campaign and develop a tricky strategy of getting someone on the ballot, getting some name recognition out there, and all the while remaining anonymous — someone with money and a Machiavellian mind.
And what was Russell Pearce’s role in all of this?
With his campaign people, his family and his Tea Party friends in on the scheme, what has he done to answer these questions? He has not called for answers. What has been discussed in campaign meetings where Western attended, wearing two hats — Cortes’ campaign adviser and Pearce campaign committee member? What has been said at the Pearce dinner table? Here we have an illegal scheme, done to get Pearce elected, and he pretends to know nothing. If he were a man of truth and integrity, a candidate who meant it when he told the voters he would “run a clean campaign,” he would have demanded that every one of those implicated in his office come clean, for they have hurt his reputation. Until the anonymous benefactors of the Pearce campaign who were involved in this illegal scheme come forward, we are left to wonder what Pearce knew.
— H. Micheal Wright is a Mesa lawyer who filed suit challenging Olivia Cortes’ candidacy.