The Sun Center for campaign finance disclosure / political corruption in Arizona

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

A group of watchdog organizations rolled out a new multi-state effort
to share information and best practices on campaign finance legislation today, the first step in an effort to force organizations that spend
millions on political activity to disclose their donors. New multi-state group pushes campaign disclosure:

California's top campaign finance watchdog
announced Thursday a collaboration among multiple states to share
information on enforcing disclosure rules.

The 10-state effort,
which also includes New York City officials, was a goal of Ann Ravel,
the chair of California's Fair Political Practices Commission who is
soon leaving for a spot on the Federal Election Commission.

Ravel has repeatedly expressed her concern the federal government isn't doing enough to force disclosure of campaign donations, requiring states to step into the vacuum.

“For the first time, states
and cities are banding together to share innovative ideas, strategies
and legislation related to campaign finance,” she said in a statement
Thursday. 

The collaboration (http://fppc.ca.gov/SUNCenter/) is called States' Unified Network Center, or the SUN Center.

UC Irvine election law professor Rick Hasen praised Ravel for
spearheading the effort, saying it's easy for anonymous political
contributions to cross state lines.

“The FPPC has been a leader in pushing for effective campaign finance
disclosure laws," he said. "This will add to those efforts and ensure
it will be harder for people to hide their finances from reasonable
regulation.”

Ravel gained attention last year for her pursuit of an Arizona
nonprofit that contributed $11 million to two ballot campaigns and
refused to disclose its donors
.

[See, The Daily Beast Exclusive: California Grand Jury Probing Shadowy Money Groups: One of the three groups that
allegedly channeled the funds to California was the Arizona-based Center
to Protect Patient Rights
, founded in 2009 by Koch operative Sean
Noble
… In
2010 and 2012, Noble’s Center appeared to act mainly as a cash conduit,
shipping millions to allied conservative groups. In the 2010 cycle, for
instance, it channeled almost $55 million—a sum almost identical to its
revenues—to a couple dozen conservative bastions including Americans
for Tax Reform and the American Future Fund, according to the group’s
filings with the IRS. … The circuitous routes apparently
used to funnel the $11 million into the state were deemed “the largest
contribution ever disclosed as campaign money laundering in California
history”
by the Fair Political Practices Commission.]

While the nonprofit eventually revealed it received the money from two
other nonprofits, those organizations don't disclose their donors
either, and state authorities continue to investigate.

Earlier this week, the Huffington Post reported, Sean Noble, 'Wizard' Behind Koch Brothers' Donor Network, Now On The Outs:

Arizona_legislature_11274934985In 2009, as conservative consultant Sean Noble was poised to launch
the Center to Protect Patient Rights, an Arizona-based advocacy group,
he was invited to one of the secretive conferences for wealthy donors
and prominent politicos hosted by multibillionaires Charles and David
Koch.

Noble’s entree to the Kochs’ fundraising kingdom came via Randy
Kendrick
, a conservative philanthropist and a regular attendee at the
Kochs' confabs. Kendrick, a fellow Arizonan, proved to be instrumental
in building and financing Noble's outfit. She helped introduce Noble to
the Koch donor world and has kicked in previously unreported
seven-figure checks to the center, multiple GOP consultants familiar
with the group told The Huffington Post.

The center's growth has been staggering. Kendrick’s largess is part
of an estimated $200 million that’s flowed to Noble's group since 2009.
By 2010, ahead of that year's midterm congressional elections, Noble's
center had evolved into a giant conduit through which donors secretly funneled over $55 million to some 20 other conservative groups, which, in turn, ran ads to help Republicans and attack Obamacare.

The center's clout grew even more in advance of last year's
presidential election. The largest chunk of the center's funding to date
has come from one group, Freedom Partners, another Koch-linked money
machine to promote small-government ideas, which contributed $115 million to the center in the year prior to the 2012 elections, according to Internal Revenue Service records.

Along the way, Noble, a devout Mormon, father of five and former chief
of staff to then-Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), became a prominent player
in conservative circles. Noble, who seems to relish flying under the
public radar, has spoken at several of the Kochs' semi-annual
conferences and, according to attendees, often represented the Koch
network of conservative groups at periodic strategy meetings hosted by
Karl Rove’s American Crossroads during the last election cycle. One GOP
operative told HuffPost that in 2012, Noble was “the wizard behind the
screen,” serving as a key strategist for Koch-allied groups and donors
working to unseat President Barack Obama.

* * *

Now, however, according to three GOP operatives, Noble appears to
have fallen out of favor with many in the Koch world. Even as he
continues to leverage his "dark money" ties with his private consulting
business, Noble's center has become entangled in an ongoing California probe that a state election regulator has called the largest case of “campaign money laundering” in California history.

As a result, one GOP operative said, “Noble has had his wings clipped.”

* * *

The Center to Protect Patient Rights, whose only address is a P.O.
box outside Phoenix, Ariz., is emblematic of the Koch network’s penchant
for secrecy and its increasing complexity and opaqueness.

As a “social welfare” 501(c)(4) nonprofit group, whose primary
purpose cannot be political activity, the center must provide
information about its donors to the IRS — though the names aren't
disclosed publicly. But in a move apparently to further mask its donors,
the center has been working with an affiliated Delaware-based limited
liability company, Corner Table, which doesn’t have to reveal its
contributors at all, according to tax documents filed by Freedom
Partners. James Davis, a Freedom Partners spokesman, said that his
group's $115 million grant was “designated to CPPR but the actual check
was sent to Corner Table.”

Working through an LLC controlled by the center “would tend to
obscure the source of the money,” said Marc Owens, who used to head the
IRS tax-exempt division and is now a partner at the law firm Caplin
& Drysdale. “It adds another layer of anonymity.”

According to IRS records and GOP operatives, the center has helped
fund such conservative bastions as Americans for Prosperity, 60 Plus and
the American Future Fund
. Which groups benefited from the $115 million
that Freedom Partners sent to the center, however, won’t be known until
the center files its next 990 tax form (most likely sometime later this
year).

* * *

The importance of anonymity to some donors has increased since last
fall’s elections when two California agencies began probing possible
violations of a state election law by Noble’s center and two other
nonprofits that also don’t disclose their donors. In California, the
state's attorney general and its Fair Political Practices Commission
have been looking into how the three nonprofits funneled $11 million to a small-business PAC in the state, which spent the funds on an unsuccessful drive to sway two ballot measures.

* * *

The inquiry has been heating up, with an increased focus on possible
criminal wrongdoing, according to two people familiar with its progress,
and could potentially lead to millions of dollars in civil penalties
and criminal charges.
In recent weeks, additional subpoenas have been
issued and new cooperation has come from some witnesses, the two
individuals said. Some of that cooperation seems to be “adverse” to
Noble’s center and parts of the Koch donor network
, according to one of
the two sources.

At least one donor who has been touched by the probe had previously
helped fund some Koch-backed projects. Charles R. Schwab, chairman of
the eponymous investment firm Charles Schwab Corp., or an entity
connected to him has received a subpoena, according to an individual
familiar with the probe. Charles Koch, speaking at a Koch conference in
2011, cited Schwab as one of about 30 donors who had kicked in $1
million or more in the prior year to Koch-backed causes.

A spokesperson for Schwab declined to comment.

* * *

Noble's status within the Koch network appears to have been hurt by
this increased scrutiny, as well as by the disappointing outcome of the
2012 election. His niche as a top political strategist in the Koch
universe is expected to be sharply reduced and funding for his center
would likewise decline, GOP operatives said.

But while his work as a Koch operative may be waning, Noble’s
consulting firm DC London
, which has offices in Phoenix and Washington,
is keeping busy on other fronts — and exploiting some of the dark money
ties established via his Koch connections.

In Arizona, for instance, Noble’s current consulting work involves at
least one effort in tandem with a fledgling dark money group, Prosper,
and a leading utility, Arizona Public Services
. Together, they are
battling to change a key regulatory incentive for the state’s 18,000
homes and businesses that have installed rooftop solar panels. Arizona
ranks among the nation's leading users of rooftop solar.

Noble is working closely with Prosper, a nonprofit group led by former
Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams
(R), who in 2012 lost a race for
Congress despite Noble’s consulting efforts on his behalf.
Serendipitously, Adams is president of Americans for Responsible
Leadership, another dark money group embroiled in the California probe
.
Adams' group actually sent the mysterious $11 million to the
small-business PAC — and was initially listed by the PAC as the donor
— after the funds were routed through Noble’s center by still another
outfit, Americans for Job Security. (The money trail was unraveled after
the California Supreme Court ordered Adams' group to explain where the
funds originated.)

Essentially, the solar fight in Arizona is over cutting incentives
under the state’s net metering program, which allows business and homes
with solar power to sell the excess energy that they generate back to
the grid. The utility and its dark money allies argue that, under the
current net metering regulations, rooftop solar users are not paying
adequate fees to help cover grid maintenance costs. Solar advocates
counter that the proposed regulatory changes would throttle solar usage
in Arizona by reducing incentives.

Prosper and 60 Plus have been running attack ads, one of which blasts
the current net metering policy as “corporate welfare.” Pro-solar
groups — including one led by former Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. (R), who
chairs the major pro-rooftop solar effort, Tell Utilities Solar won’t be
Killed (TUSK) — reject that message.

Goldwater voices outrage at the tactics of the dark money groups and
their utility ally. “I think it’s an effort of desperation,” he told The
Huffington Post. “Why don’t they speak for themselves?” he asked,
referring to the utility. “I’m pissed off that we have a monopoly.
They’re acting like a dinosaur when they should be encouraging solar.”

Arizona Public Services has denied funding the dark money spending,
but it has acknowledged that Noble is working as a consultant. And per
his modus operandi, Noble has been trying to keep a low profile.

* * *

Whatever happens in the solar battle, consultants in Arizona said Noble
has already begun forging other business deals with Adams that could
help offset the loss of work in the Koch world and the uncertainty
created by the ongoing California probe.

You can file this under "Things the GOP-friendly Arizona political media never reports," even though they are fully aware of it, and socialize with these people.

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