Interest group donations give late boost to Prop 204 campaigns

Oct 23, 2012, 10:19 PM | Updated: 10:21 pm

PHOENIX — Education unions and a group representing contractors have given hundreds of thousands of dollars this month to a campaign supporting Proposition 204, while a donation from a group representing automobile dealers is helping fuel the opposing campaign, records show.

The result will be more television and radio ads, leaflets and other types of campaigning by both groups in the final days before the election.

If passed, the initiative would enact a permanent 1 cent-per-dollar sales tax to fund education, transportation projects and human services.

The Quality Education and Jobs, Supporting 204 campaign raised $755,000 in October, according to reports filed with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on contributions of $10,000 or more.

We Build Arizona, a coalition of construction groups advocating for infrastructure investment, contributed $345,000 in three installments during the month, the most of any group.

The measure would earmark about $100 million a year for education and transportation projects, which could benefit road builders and transportation contractors.

Mark Minter, a director of We Build Arizona and executive director of the Arizona Builders’ Alliance, said the initiative would also stop the Legislature from raiding the Highway User Revenue Fund, which the Arizona Department of Transportation administers with revenues from sources including gasoline taxes and vehicle license taxes and registration fees.

“It will have a very positive impact on our industry,” Minter said.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, gave $250,000 on Oct. 9. The Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, gave $50,000 on Oct. 16 through its Education Improvement Fund.

Other October donors include education advocacy groups such as the Arizona Education Parent Network and the Children’s Action Alliance.

Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance, which contributed $40,000, said that the organization supports Proposition 204 because it would lead to better outcomes for kids.

“Funding is what enables folks to get their message out to the voters. So that was why it was really important, coupled with our commitment of time,” Naimark said.

A post-primary election report filed with the Secretary of State’s Office showed that three organizations had given more than $100,000 to Quality Education and Jobs, Supporting 204 by Sept. 17. We Build Arizona had given $307,000 before the report’s cutoff date, The Friends of ASBA Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization affiliated with the Arizona School Boards Association, gave $150,000 and the AEA Education Improvement Fund had given $116,300. We Build Arizona gave an additional $85,000 on Sept. 21.

The No New Taxes, No on 204 campaign raised $459,000 in October, based on contributions over $10,000 reported to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. The biggest contributor was the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association, which gave $339,000.

Among other donors, the Arizona Free Enterprise Club gave $60,000 and Lincoln Heritage Life Insurance Co. contributed $50,000.

The group’s largest contribution to date came from Americans for Responsible Leadership, an obscure political group based in Phoenix that gave $500,000 on Sept. 17.

Steve Voeller, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, which also gave $25,000 in September, said he hopes the money can help the campaign persuade voters to defeat the measure.

“It should go down swiftly and dramatically,” Voeller said.

An SRP committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an additional $10,000 contribution to the No on 204 Campaign, following a prior $5,000 contribution. The new contribution will have to be approved by SRP’s board.

SRP spokeswoman Patty Garcia-Likens said that while SRP is a big supporter of education, the utility is concerned that the measure would be hurt the business community.

“Our concern with 204 has to do with the fact that this is a permanent tax increase,” she said.

Calls to several of the largest recent contributors to each campaign weren’t returned.

Tom Volgy, a University of Arizona political science professor, said that fundraising is critical in ballot proposition campaigns because campaign messages can easily be lost for voters among the noise created by political candidates.

“The fundraising is key to getting your message out,” he said. “Without money you can’t talk to people about what the proposition is about and the consequences for not passing it.”

Volgy added that how a campaign uses the money can be just as important as how much was raised.

“The issue may not be so much how much they spend, but where do they spend it?” Volgy said. “Can they target citizens most effectively with that money?”

Ann-Eve Pedersen, chairman of the Yes on 204 campaign, said that the money will allow the campaign to combat what she called misinformation spread by the opposition.

“We’re doing a lot of going door to door, making sure that we’re calling voters,” she said. “We’re out leafleting at different events and really just trying to make sure that people are well-informed because unfortunately there has been this massive misinformation campaign.”

The money raised will allow the Yes campaign to continue advertising on television, radio and distributing brochures in communities across the state.

State Treasurer Doug Ducey, who leads the campaign against Proposition 204, said the campaign used some of the money it raised to release a new TV ad this week criticizing the ballot measure as a complicated attempt to raise taxes and fund bigger bureaucracy.

In the remaining weeks Ducey plans to speak out about the bill to various groups, as well as airing TV and radio ads, using auto-dialing campaigns and sending out mailings.

“Whatever we can do to get the facts of this issue in front of the viewer, that’s what we are going to do,” he said.

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Interest group donations give late boost to Prop 204 campaigns