Arizona AG indicts signature-gathering company over Prop 208 petitions

Nov 17, 2020, 10:59 AM | Updated: 11:52 am
(Twitter Photo/@investinedaz)...
(Twitter Photo/@investinedaz)
(Twitter Photo/@investinedaz)

PHOENIX – A Phoenix signature-collection company faces fines totaling up to $1 million for allegedly making illegal payments to workers who circulated petitions for the successful Invest in Ed ballot initiative.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich on Monday announced that AZ Petition Partners LLC, which operates as Petition Partners, has been indicted on 50 misdemeanor counts of prohibited payments for signature collection.

The company said the charges are unfounded and called it “a political prosecution.”

“The allegation that Petition Partners paid its circulators an illegal bonus by the signature – or any sort of illegal bonus – is absolutely false. We did no such thing,” company spokesman David Leibowitz said in a statement emailed to KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“This filing is a serious overreach by the attorney general’s office. This is a political prosecution, pure and simple. Instead of protecting the public, this case is designed to interfere with the ability of Arizona citizens to get initiatives on the ballot. We are confident the court will see it our way.”

The indictment, which was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on Oct. 29, accuses Petition Partners of violating a state law enacted in 2017.

The statute reads: “A person shall not pay or receive money or any other thing of value based on the number of signatures collected on a statewide initiative or referendum petition. Signatures that are obtained by a paid circulator who violates this section are void and shall not be counted in determining the legal sufficiency of the petition.”

The indictment describes 50 bonus payments made in June, with 49 in the range of $25-$150 and one for $1,200.

Brnovich’s office alleged in a press release that the payments in question were organized by Petition Partners owner Andrew Chavez as part of the company’s “Duel for the Dollars” and “Weekend Warriors” bonus programs.

Because the class 1 misdemeanor charges were filed against an enterprise, not a person, each count is punishable by a fine of up to $20,000 if the defendant is found guilty. The maximum fine in Arizona for an individual convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor is $2,500.

Neither the indictment nor the attorney general’s press release alleged that the signatures in question had any impact on the Invest in Ed measure making the ballot as Proposition 208 for the Nov. 3 election.

The Arizona Secretary of State’s office verified 377,456 signatures submitted for the Invest in Ed measure, well above the required threshold of 237,645. Invest in Ed had submitted 435,669 signatures.

The initiative, which passed by a 52%-48% margin, imposes a 3.5% tax surcharge on taxable annual income over $250,000 for single persons or married persons filing separately, or $500,000 for married persons filing jointly or heads of households, with proceeds directed to public education.

Opponents tried to prevent Prop 208 from making it to the ballot, arguing that the 100-word description on petitions was inaccurate.

After a Superior Court judge ruled against Prop 208 in July, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the ruling in August and reinstated the measure.

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Arizona AG indicts signature-gathering company over Prop 208 petitions