And Mesa officials today removed the signs, which contain the slogan “Si, se puede,” based on Cortes’ testimony on Thursday that revealed she doesn’t own them or know who put them up.
“Now that we know they are not hers, we are going to take a look at that,” said state election director Amy Chan. “We’ve got to figure out a way to try to talk to whoever it is and see if we can get them to put a disclosure on there to come into compliance, at a minimum.”
Since the signs aren’t owned by Cortes, they’re violating a state law that says they should have contained a “paid for by” disclosure, Chan said.
Chan added if a political committee other than Cortes’ campaign paid for those signs, that committee is required to report the spending.
“Theoretically, whoever paid for these — that will be in their report, and that’s required,” she said.
Cortes, a candidate in the Nov. 8 recall election targeting Senate President Russell Pearce, is facing a lawsuit alleging that she’s a “diversionary” candidate who is running to siphon off votes from another contender, thereby allowing Pearce to keep his seat.
But a bigger trouble potentially awaits whoever paid circulators who gathered the signatures that helped Cortes to qualify for the ballot.
Cortes told the court Thursday that she doesn’t know who paid the signature gatherers.
The payment won’t likely be considered an independent expenditure since paying for nominating signatures has directly benefited Cortes by putting her on the ballot.
But if it’s a contribution to Cortes’ campaign, it is subject to limits.
Individual contributions, for example, are capped at $424 for legislative races.
This means if the amount that was spent to pay for the signatures surpassed the limit, then it violates campaign finance laws, and the unknown donor — or donors — could face a civil fine of three times the amount in question.
Cortes could be on the hook as well.
Now that she knows that somebody else has paid for many of her signatures, she needs to find out who did it so she could properly report the donation, said election Attorney Rhonda Barnes.
Otherwise, the situation sets her up for a potential campaign finance violation, she said.
“In a sense, that’s illegal because if somebody is paying for it and not telling her, then she is unknowingly, potentially filing a campaign finance report that’s false because she’s not reporting those contributions,” Barnes said. “You’re submitting a campaign finance report and you’re saying this is true and correct regarding the expenses and contributions of my campaign, and, in fact, that’s a false statement because somebody has donated this to you.”
Barnes suggested that if Cortes can’t find out who made the payment, she should ask the Secretary of State’s office about how to handle the situation.
In any case, it appears Cortes could still remedy the situation.
Her campaign could pay for the signature-gathering effort. Or she could loan her campaign some money to pay for it.
Meanwhile, Mesa decided to take down Cortes’ signs because the city learned they weren’t hers.
Christine Zielonka, a city officer, said Mesa earlier took the position that the pro-Cortes campaign already violated state law because it lacked contact information as required by law.
But Zielonka said the city wanted to extend Cortes some courtesy and was giving her time to comply.
“But once we got to the point where there was nobody that would say, ‘Yes, we’ll go out and make sure (we’re) in compliance with the requirements’, then basically our only position was to say, ‘Well, there’s no way to make them legal. We have to remove them,” she said.