Gov. Doug Ducey’s reelection campaign is quietly conceding that a $500,000 donation listed as coming from a newly formed company actually was a billionaire who works for a company that owns more than two dozen auto dealerships in the state.
Capitol Media Services has discovered that the Ducey Victory Fund on Wednesday retroactively amended the campaign finance report it filed on July 16 to remove the name of Blue Magnolia from the donation. The report now reads that the money came from billionaire Larry Van Tuyl who runs the Berkshire Hathaway Automotive Group after he sold his 28 dealerships to the firm in 2014.
That amended filing comes just two days after the Attorney General’s Office received and began investigating a complaint from the Campaign Legal Center that the committee set up to help the governor get a second four-year term violated laws making it illegal to donate money to a campaign in the name of someone else.
But Brendan Fischer, director of the organization’s federal reform program, said the fact that the disclosure now has been corrected and the true source of the dollars is now public should not end the probe.
“It’s not enough that a half million-dollar contribution is reattributed once the secret donor gets caught,” he said. “It’s important that Arizona authorities send a message that this kind of conduct is impermissible.”
And Fischer does not think the probe should end with how it was actually Van Tuyl who put the money into Ducey’s campaign in May through the limited liability company that had been formed in Delaware just two weeks earlier. He wants Attorney General Mark Brnovich to find out what the governor and his campaign staff knew and when they knew it.
“The public has a right to know whether the governor knew about the true source,” Fischer said.
He pointed out that the reports available to the public as of Election Day continued to list only Blue Magnolia as the donor of the $500,000.
“The governor may have known where this money was coming from,” Fischer said. “But the public did not.”
Ducey himself has refused to answer what he knew about the $500,000 donation. Nor would he say whether he even questioned getting a check that large from a limited liability company that did not exist two weeks earlier and, according to the complaint, had no visible assets or cash.
On Thursday, J.P. Twist, who managed Ducey’s reelection campaign, would say only that the Ducey Victory Fund “received a request from the donor to reclassify the contribution as personal.” It was that request, Twist said, that resulted in the amendment filed Wednesday of the report that originally had been submitted in July.
Arizona law makes it a crime to make a contribution in the name of another person or to knowingly accept a contribution made by someone in the name of another person. Violations are a Class 6 felony, which carry up to a one-year prison term and a $150,000 fine.
The original CLC complaint, filed Dec. 4 with the Secretary of State’s Office, said there was reason to believe that the $500,000 Blue Magnolia donation actually came from Van Tuyl.
That wasn’t just idle speculation.
Months earlier the CLC had filed a similar complaint with the Federal Elections Commission about a $100,000 donation made by Blue Magnolia to DefendArizona, a political action committee set up to help Martha McSally in what ultimately proved to be an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. After that complaint was submitted, DefendArizona amended its own federal campaign finance reports to show that the cash actually came from Van Tuyl.
Fischer said that CLC, which monitors federal election filings, had been unaware of the Blue Magnolia donation to the Ducey Victory Fund until it was reported by Capitol Media Services. That resulted in the Dec. 4 complaint.
Less than a week later, though, state Elections Director Eric Spencer forwarded the complaint to the Attorney General’s Office. Spencer said his office generally does not handle campaign finance complaints if the underlying conduct is a crime, versus a simple civil violation that could be remedied with a fine.
“We take all allegations very seriously and we are actively reviewing it,” AG’s spokeswoman Katie Conner said of the complaint. “No further comment will be made at this time.”
Van Tuyl at one time owned more than 75 auto dealerships nationwide, including 28 in Arizona, with an estimated $8 billion in annual revenues. The 2014 sale, described at the time as an all-cash deal, put those in control of Berkshire Hathaway where Van Tuyl is now president and chairman of the board of the company’s automotive group.
Celebritynetworth.com lists Van Tuyl’s net worth at $2 billion.
The Ducey Victory Fund is actually only one of the campaign committees set up by the governor and his supporters to take contributions.
One, the Ducey for Governor Committee, lived within the limits set by Arizona law. That includes a cap of $5,100 on any individual contribution and a prohibition against taking corporate dollars.
But the Ducey Victory Fund had no such constraints.
Aides to the governor said non-corporate contributions to that fund within the $5,100 limit were transferred to the governor’s own committee. The other dollars were given to the Arizona Republican Party which has no constraints on the size or source of donations. And the party then could spend money on its own commercials and efforts promoting Ducey’s reelection.