FAIR Trust targeted over allegations of illegally lobbying IRC

Evan Wyloge//August 23, 2011

FAIR Trust targeted over allegations of illegally lobbying IRC

Evan Wyloge//August 23, 2011

David Cantelme, one of FAIR Trust's attorneys, speaks to the Independent Redistricting Commission during an August 3 commission meeting. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

A Libertarian Party activist alleged in a complaint filed today that a group with ties to Republican politicians is illegally lobbying the state’s redistricting commission.

Jim March, who registered the complaint with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, said FAIR Trust’s actions go beyond the scope of what’s permitted for a legal trust and require them to be registered as a lobbying group.

March, a Pima County Libertarian officer, cites extended conversations he’s observed during Independent Redistricting Commission meetings between FAIR Trust attorneys and John Mills, a Republican legislative staffer, as additional evidence of cooperation with Republican politicians.

The complaint elevates what until now had been mere criticism of FAIR Trust, which has refused to publicly disclose its financial backers or the interests it is working for.

Attorneys for FAIR Trust said they’re only urging adherence to the IRC’s constitutional requirements and Voting Rights Act compliance, but the group’s detractors have regularly accused the group of harassing the IRC in order to benefit their Republican backers.

FAIR Trust has so far been classified as a legal trust, which does not require disclosure of who is financing their activity, and representatives from the group have so far refused to volunteer that information, citing their “legal trust” classification.

March said he wants FAIR Trust to have to say who is paying for its activity, even though registering as a lobbyist would only require disclosure of the group’s principal and registered lobbyists.

“I don’t like the idea of a hidden agenda being bought and paid for at those meetings,” March said.

March said FAIR Trust is engaged in lobbying because he believes it is being paid to advocate for particular actions from the IRC, whose work was deemed to be legislative in nature by the Arizona Court of Appeals in a 2003 ruling.

“If they’ve been talking to individual members of the IRC or their staff, then it’s probably lobbying,” March said. “It’s different from you or I talking to the IRC, because they’re being paid to do it.”

Arizona law defines lobbying as “attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by directly communicating with any legislator.”

March, a former registered lobbyist in California, admitted that his complaint could be turned away, depending on what the Secretary of State’s office finds.

“I could be wrong,” March said. “We’ll run it up the flagpole and see what salutes. If the (Secretary of State) wants to ignore the question, then there’s nothing I can really do beyond that.”

Michael Liburdi, one of the attorney’s with FAIR Trust, asserted that the group has violated none of Arizona’s lobbying requirements, and that he’s sure the complaint will go nowhere.

“It’s legally meritless,” Liburdi said. “What matters here is Arizona’s lobbying rules… and the clear definition of lobbying is attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation.”

Representatives of the Secretary of State’s office said today they will, as usual, review the complaint, and that a decision to either continue with an investigation or dismiss it should come by the end of the week.

Amy Bjelland, the Secretary of State’s Election Director, said if she and her staff decide there’s merit to the complaint, they will move forward by asking FAIR Trust to respond to the alleged violations.

“Sometimes a person just doesn’t like what another person is doing,” Bjelland said. “It happens all the time in politics.”