Probe launched into Pinal County political group
Published: May 1, 2012 at 9:30 am
State authorities are investigating whether a recently formed group funded by a politically connected mining company violated Arizona’s campaign-finance laws.
Complaints filed with the state allege that the Pinal Truth Squad didn’t properly register as an independent expenditure committee, The Arizona Republic reported. The complaints also alleged that the group failed to make notification of spending and didn’t identify who paid for ads critical of a Florence mayoral candidate who opposes the proposed development of an underground copper mine in Florence.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office said Monday that it will conduct a civil investigation of the group.
The group was created Feb. 15 in the heat of Florence’s municipal elections dominated by the mining controversy. Curis Resources Inc., an Arizona affiliate of a Canadian company that wants to begin copper extraction this year, supports the Truth Squad.
The group is run by incoming state Parks Director Bryan Martyn, who is quitting his position as director of the Pinal Truth Squad to take the state job. Martyn said he was paid for running the organization and that some of the funding came from Curis.
“I’m not going to say (how much),” he said. “I was compensated for my time and ultimately my exposure.”
Martyn said he was quitting Truth Squad because “it’s inappropriate for the state parks director to be the head of a group that’s going after a particular business owner,” referring to developer George Johnson, who opposes the mine.
The Truth Squad website and mailers linked Tom Rankin, who won the mayoral race, to Johnson, a powerful Pinal County developer who also operates a water utility. Johnson has been criticized for environmental practices and utility rates.
Michael Mandell, an attorney for the Pinal Truth Squad, said his client did not violate any campaign-finance laws because it didn’t attempt to influence the outcome of any election. Instead, the Pinal Truth Squad has engaged in issue advocacy and disseminated information throughout Pinal County that concerns residents, he said.
David Leibowitz, a spokesman for Pinal Truth Squad, confirmed that Curis financially supports the organization, but he declined to say how much money the mining company donated. Curis spokeswoman Carol Klimas said in an email that the company is a member of the Pinal Truth Squad.
“We support the stated intent of the group, which we understand is to expose the truth on various issues throughout Pinal County,” Klimas said.
Arizona Elections Director Amy Chan said the state can’t force the Pinal Truth Squad to reveal its donors, but she agreed with Johnson’s attorney that campaign-finance violations occurred.
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