Realtors Violate Campaign Finance Law

by John Washington on October 18, 2013

From the Scottsdale Republic this morning; I also note that Patrick Jones (quoted in the story) is the 2013 SAAR board chairman, the chairman of the pro-bond political committee, AND a member of the board of the National Association of Realtors. 

Pro-bonds group acknowledges campaign calls’ disclaimer wrong

Complaint filed with city; vendor blamed

By Beth Duckett, The Republic | azcentral.com

Local and national Realtor groups have acknowledged that campaign calls for Scottsdale’s Nov. 5 bond election vio­lated campaign-finance law by announc­ing the wrong disclaimer.

Ralph Holmen, associate general counsel with the National Association of Realtors, said the Chicago-based associ­ation helped to facilitate phone calls re­lated to the election. The association re­cently donated $86,000 to the group Scottsdale’s Quality of Life Matters in Support of Questions 1, 2, 3, and 4, a local political committee campaigning to sup­port the bond election.

Holmen told The Republic the vendor that made the calls inadvertently identi­fied the association, rather than Scotts­dale’s Quality of Life, as the group that paid for the calls.

“It was a mistake, if you will,” Holmen said.

On Oct. 11, Scottsdale resident John Washington filed a campaign-finance complaint with the city about the dis­claimer. It was against the National As­sociation of Realtors and the Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors, which is listed in a city filing as the sponsoring or­ganization of Scottsdale’s Quality of Life Matters.

City Clerk Carolyn Jagger alerted the organizations of the complaint on Oct. 14, according to e-mails obtained by The Re­public.

They have 10 days, or until Thursday, Oct. 24, to respond, she said.

Rebecca Grossman, president and chief executive of the Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors, said in an e-mail response that upon receiving notifica­tion from the clerk’s office of a com­plaint, the group “immediately checked into it and determined that the National Association of Realtors did not use the correct disclaimer for calls made on be­half of the Scottsdale’s Quality of Life Matters in Support of Questions 1, 2, 3 & 4.”

“This error was immediately correct­ed and NAR assures us they will do what­ever is required to respond to the com­plaint,” she said. Washington said he filed the com­plaint after he reached out to a Scotts­dale Area Association of Realtors offi­cial by e-mail but did not hear back.

In the e-mail, Washington said it came to his attention that there was push-poll­ing under way.

“I have gotten several reports from folks who have received calls that begin with questions about their likelihood to vote for the bond questions,” he said. “When the recipients indicate they are unlikely to vote for the bonds, the caller begins a rather pushy sales pitch about why we need the bonds.”

Washington said that when the callers purportedly were asked to identify the group funding the calls, they indicated “National Association of Realtors” or “Scottsdale Area Association of Real­tors.”

“The bigger issue is the manner in which they’re conducting the polls and the fact that several of their recipients of the calls felt like they were being pres­sured and maybe being subjected to some abusive type of conversation,” Washington said in a phone interview.

A review of Arizona law shows that Scottsdale’s Quality of Life Matters may have violated campaign-finance law by failing to report an $86,000 campaign contribution within the required time frame.

State laws says committees support­ing or opposing ballot measures must give notice to the city clerk within 24 hours, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, after they receive $10,000 or more from a single contributor.

On Sept. 27, the National Association of Realtors contributed $86,000 to Scottsdale’s Quality of Life Matters, which reported the gift on Oct. 14.

As of Monday morning, no complaint was filed.

Under state law, a political committee found in violation of the time frame is liable to pay up to three times the amount that was improperly reported.

Patrick Jones, chairman of Scottsdale’s Quality of Life Matters, said the group acknowledges “that this new collaboration of contributors and vendors has resulted in communication and technical and reporting problems.”

“Coupled with the challenge of a dynamic and changing election statute, oversights were made that have now been corrected,” said Jones, chair of the Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors. “We respect the law guiding campaign finance.”

As of Monday, Jones said the group was in full compliance and “will be through the course of this election cycle and beyond.”

In that there is a prescribed process to be followed now regarding verifying the corrective actions and remedies, SAAR will have no further comment on these issues until we have completed the process with the appropriate city staff.

Kathy Littlefield, chairwoman of Keep Scottsdale Special in Opposition to Questions 1, 2, 3, & 4, accused the group of waiting to report the contribution until after early ballots went out on Oct. 10.

“Obviously they wanted to make sure that the news of their unprecedented contribution was not known to the voters until after the early ballots had been sent out,” she said in an e-mail.

The deadline for early-voting requests is Friday, Oct. 25.

The ballot is divided into four questions that ask voters to approve up to $212.1 million in bonds to fund as many as 39 public projects citywide.

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