Campaign finance violations alleged against Desert EDGE Advocates

Scottsdale City Hall is in the Old Town area at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (Photo by Arianna Grainey)

A complaint has been filed at the Scottsdale City Clerk’s Office alleging practices conducted by advocates of the polarizing Desert EDGE project is in violation of campaign finance regulations.

A campaign finance complaint addressed to City Clerk Carolyn Jagger on May 25 by attorney Roopali H. Desai, on behalf of the Protect Our Preserve political action committee, outlines three alleged violations surrounding practices and an alleged lack of transparency by a group called “Desert EDGE Advocates, and Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc.”

Ms. Jagger confirmed she received the campaign finance complaint in a May 30 phone call, noting the two entities now have 10 days to respond to the complaint.

“So for now, honestly, it’s just a matter to see what they have to say,” Ms. Jagger said of requesting a response from both parties. “I won’t know until I see what they have to say, it would be pure speculation — I have no idea what their answer will be.”

In July 2017, Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale unveiled its plans for a proposed desert-appreciation venue envisaged on less than 6 acres just south of the established Gateway trailhead within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The facility includes a series of structures coined “pavilions” and has an asking price of $61.2 million.

The issue of how and if a desert-appreciation venue ought to be built within Preserve limits has drawn a line in the political sand for many Scottsdale residents, local gadflies and elected leaders.

North Scottsdale resident Jason Alexander has founded a political action committee to try and force a public vote on the matter.

NoDDC supporters during a 2017 Scottsdale City Council meeting. (file photo)

The document filed on behalf of Protect Our Preserve PAC, states their complaint is against Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc. and Desert EDGE Advocates. Specifically, Protect Our Preserve alleges that paid operatives of Desert EDGE and Desert EDGE Advocates have followed individuals circulating initiative petitions.

“When a circulator approaches a prospective petition signer, the assigned paid operative also approaches that signer, attempts to dissuade them from signing, and also presents them with a printed advertisement that asks signers to ‘KNOW the FACTS before you sign a petition,’” the filed complaint states.

The three outlined complaints brought by Protect Our Preserve include:

  • Not disclosing the words “paid for by” on their solicitation literature;
  • Failure to register as a political action committee; and
  • Failure to file campaign finance reports.

“Our issue is not that someone is on the other side of this, we expected that,” said Mr. Alexander, director of NoDDC and secretary of Protect Our Preserve.

“They’ve continued to operate how they have for two-plus years — put your name behind it. Show what you’re spending money on, what you’re trying to represent. Provide contact information and don’t be cowardly.”

The Desert EDGE Advocates group created Facebook and Twitter pages earlier this year, while mass emails from the entity have surfaced with little contact information available except the same phone number and website as the Desert EDGE. The Desert EDGE Advocates utilize a feature photo with Desert EDGE’s official logo and adding the word “Advocates” below.

The letter to Ms. Jagger states that as of May 25, the city’s campaign finance database doesn’t reflect Desert EDGE Advocates as a political action committee, or the filing of a campaign finance report for ballot measure expenditures.

Jason Alexander

“We’re obviously engaged in an election issue and someone from the opposition is clearly paying circulators to go out, stand near us and hand out fliers,” Mr. Alexander explained. “They’re not saying who paid for it, they’re not organized as a political action committee — all clear violations around Arizona laws.”

Mr. Alexander says there is difference between someone’s First Amendment right, and what he believes the Desert EDGE Advocates are doing.

“The line you’re talking about comes when you start spending money,” he said. “If it was just one individual and it was a couple of fliers printed from their office and stood outside, that’s fine, that’s free speech, but clearly someone’s been hired.”

Through public records requests Mr. Alexander says he has seen invoices from entities such as web site contractors.

“We see small word changes on a website, receiving invoices from their web contractor, so obviously money has been exchanged,” he said.

The Protect Our Preserve efforts to gather enough signatures to force a November ballot initiatives are going swimmingly, Mr. Alexander noted, saying they’ve passed 30,000 signatures.

“We feel extremely confident,” he said of the signature effort. “Come July 5 we’ll have the right number of ballot signatures. I think the reality is what has brought the opposition out, is too little too late.”

Ms. Jagger says the parties involved in the complaint have until Monday, June 11 to respond.

“Certainly they’re not a registered PAC so it’s not a complaint against a political committee, it’s against entities. I’m not sure what their thinking is on that,” Ms. Jagger said. “In my mind it’s good to have both sides of the story — there’s an allegation, now we’ll find out what their side of it is, and then we’ll decide.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.