Protect Our Preserve: no ‘Dark Money’ behind Prop. 420 in Scottsdale

Scottsdale voters are in the middle of an energetic debate over the future of their beautiful McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Tom Durham

On one side are Protect Our Preserve and Protect Our Preserve PAC (“POP PAC”), two groups who advocate letting Scottsdale voters decide on future development in the Preserve. Protect Our Preserve PAC is a political action committee, which has spearheaded the drive to put Proposition 420 on the ballot.

If passed, Prop. 420 would require that Scottsdale voters take a vote before allowing any development in the Preserve.

On the other side is Protect Your Preserve PAC, which is opposing Prop. 420 and wants to build the Desert Edge in the Preserve. If Prop. 420 is defeated, the city attorney has confirmed that the City Council can build “whatever they want” in the Preserve without consulting Scottsdale voters.

In recent days, both Protect Our Preserve PAC and Protect Your Preserve PAC have released their financial statements for the third quarter of 2018. This has led to a heated debate over the funding of both sides.

Two council members supporting the Desert EDGE have circulated a false claim that POP and POP PAC are supported by two anonymous donors who have provided $100,000 in “Dark Money” to POP and POP PAC. We agree it is important to know who is funding the forces for and against Prop. 420.

But we think it is even more important to understand the motives behind those who are both for and against Prop. 420. So, here are the facts behind the contributors to Prop. 420 and their motives. Protect Our Preserve PAC is a relatively new group that was formed to lead the petition drive, which produced Prop. 420. POP PAC has received about 60 contributions from individuals, many more than the Desert EDGE forces have received.

More are coming in every week. These contributions are relatively small, because our donors don’t have the real estate developer money behind the Desert EDGE. All the contributors to POP PAC are Scottsdale citizens who are concerned about the future of the Preserve.

They have no agenda other than keeping the Preserve in its pristine state, as required by the Preserve Charter. All these contributors have been reported on POP PAC campaign finance reports or will be reported on the next report.

These reports are available on the city clerk’s web site. We encourage you to check them out— you will probably recognize your friends and neighbors from all over Scottsdale. Those who have contributed less than $50 are not identified on the reports, but we would be happy to share their identity.

The biggest contributor to POP PAC is POP, a section 501(c)4 organization.

That is IRS lingo for an organization formed to serve community interests. The forces behind the Desert EDGE have claimed that POP is supplying “Dark Money” because the IRS does not require POP to identify its small contributors. POP was formed in July of 2016, before anyone had ever thought of Prop. 420.

A generous Scottsdale citizen, concerned about the future of the Preserve, established a $25,000 matching gift campaign. He or she wished to remain anonymous, because let’s face it — would you want to be crossways with the city and the council members supporting the Desert Edge?

This matching gift campaign was extremely successful, and the $25,000 goal was quickly matched. In fact, this campaign was so successful that another $25,000 in matching funds was pledged. Hundreds of Scottsdale citizens stepped up to match this amount, and the donors to POP did not included any corporate money.

This money was used to file a lawsuit against the city requiring the city to follow the Preserve Ordinance requirement that the Preserve be kept “pristine.”

As a section 501(c)4 organization, POP is not required to track the identity of small contributors. Many of its donations come from $20 bills dropped into the bucket at fundraisers. Once again — POP doesn’t have the big bucks from the real estate developers behind the Desert EDGE.

In this regard, POP is like the Salvation Army buckets.

The Salvation Army can’t — and isn’t required to — account for the identity of everyone who drops a $20 bill in the bucket. The same rules apply to POP. It isn’t required to track the identify of small contributors. If you attended a POP fundraiser, you would have seen dozens of your friends and neighbors making small donations to protect our Preserve.

When POP PAC was formed to spearhead the petition drive that led to Prop. 420, POP decided it made sense to assist the petition drive by donating to POP PAC. So POP has made several large donations to POP PAC as part of POP’s original mission to protect the Preserve.

The folks behind Desert EDGE filed a campaign finance complaint against POP and POP PAC concerning POP’s donations to POP PAC. They won’t tell you this, but the city quickly rejected their complaint as groundless.

POP’s and POP PAC’s actions are completely legal.

So those are the facts — the “yes” vote on Prop. 420 is supported by hundreds of small contributions from your friends and neighbors, without a dime of corporate money. What are their motives? Obviously, they have no interest other than to protect the Preserve from development.

One final word on POP and POP PAC’s finances — although the volunteers of NoDDC did fantastic work getting Prop. 420 on the ballot, there is no financial relationship between NoDDC and POP and POP PAC. NoDDC has not provided any money to POP or POP PAC, and they have not funded NoDDC.

Now, let’s look at the money behind the Desert EDGE.

The Desert EDGE has only 18 individual contributors. Six of those individuals don’t even live in Scottsdale. Many of these individuals are real estate professionals who would profit from development in the Preserve.
The story is even worse concerning the corporate contributors.

The Desert EDGE forces have received $27,000 in money from large corporations. Once again, many of these corporations are real estate developers who would stand to reap huge profits from development in the Preserve. And, most of this money comes from outside Scottsdale.

One individual from Los Angeles who operates a real estate investment firm gave $10,000 personally. Why would a real estate investor from Los Angeles invest $10,000 to deny Scottsdale citizens a vote on our Preserve? Could it be that he wants to set a precedent for construction in the Preserve?

So there you have it, folks. POP and POP PAC are supported by hundreds of contributions from ordinary Scottsdale citizens.

The Desert EDGE is supported by real estate developers from outside Scottsdale. Which side has the best interests of Scottsdale at heart? We think you know the answer.

Vote “yes” on 420!

Editor’s note: Betty Janik and Tom Durham are the treasurers of POP and POP PAC, respectively.

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