The Oro Valley Town Attorney has asked the sole contributors to a political committee that spent the most money in the Oro Valley Town Council election to refile its campaign finance report, saying he has evidence "indicating that expenditures made by the committee were done in cooperation and coordination with candidates for office."
OV Candidates 2004 had filed reports with the town saying it was an independent expenditure committee, meaning it was spending money in the election independent of any candidate. State laws governing independent committees define independent expenditures as those made "without cooperation or consultation with any candidate or committee or agent of the candidate."
The committee spent more than $18,000 between January and May, mostly on newspaper advertising, with many of the ads promoting two-year term candidates Conny Culver and K.C. Carter, and four-year candidates Helen Dankwerth, Barry Gillaspie and Richie Feinberg. All but Feinberg were elected. The committee's sole contributors were Bill Adler, Celta Sheppard and Carl "Tony" Kuehn.
Town Attorney Mark Langlitz sent letters to all three saying he believed the committee had acted in coordination with candidates or their committees or agents because: OV Candidates 2004 had distributed committee circulars that were prepared with photographs of candidates provided to the committee by candidates or agents of the candidates; committee campaign literature was prepared jointly with candidates' campaign literature; committee campaign literature was distributed jointly with candidates' literature; and the committee's campaign literature was based on information about candidates' plans provided by candidates or candidates' agents.
Langlitz, in an interview July 16, emphasized his focus was on the activities of the members of OV Candidates 2004 and not the candidates with whom he believes it coordinated its activities to some degree.
Adler, the chairman of the committee, said July 19 he had not seen Langlitz's letter and did not want to comment until he had.
When this issue was raised during the campaign, Adler steadfastly denied he or any member of the committee had coordinated any of the committee's expenditures with any candidate.
He said he had asked Langlitz about the laws governing independent committees before the March primary; however, those questions mostly dealt with whether state laws capping the amounts individuals can contribute annually to political committees applied to independent committees.
The issue of OV Candidates 2004's independence was first raised in April when an anonymous Oro Valley citizen hired prominent Phoenix lawyer Lisa Hauser, who is an expert on state election law, to complain to Langlitz and Town Clerk Kathi Cuvelier that there was reason to believe the committee's members and candidates were acting in coordination.
Langlitz forwarded the complaint to the Pima County Attorney's Office and the state Attorney General. Because the letter was not in the form of a sworn complaint, as required by state law, both agencies declined to review the matter and referred it back to Langlitz.
Langlitz said in May it was unlikely he would do anything with the complaint because of what he said were "obvious conflicts," meaning the candidates in the election could become his bosses if elected. Which is what happened - four of the five candidates supported by OV Candidates 2004 are now council members.
Langlitz said news stories about Hauser's letter and citizens bringing him information and campaign fliers before and after the election made it clear to him there "was obvious" coordination between the committee and several candidates. He said he struggled with what to do about it, but after rereading the lawyer's code of conduct, he decided he had no choice but to request the committee refile as a political committee.
Langlitz, in his letter, asked each member of the committee to submit to a sworn deposition July 23. The committee members have 20 days to comply with Langlitz's order to refile or to request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
If it is determined the members of the committee violated state law, they could face fines up to three times the amount spent by the committee, which could mean as much as $54,000. Langlitz said whatever the amount of the fine that may be imposed, each committee member would be responsible for an amount equal to the percentage of funds they contributed to the committee.
It was unclear what effect, if any, the change in status of the OV Candidates 2004 committee would have on the campaign finance reports of the candidates it supported.