Smoking gun appears, as former employees of Tom Steyer-led campaign come forward

PHOENIX — The controversial ballot proposal tied to California billionaire Tom Steyer is facing increased scrutiny this week after former employees came forward alleging illegal campaign signature quotas.

The ballot proposal, if implemented, would require Arizona’s utilities to obtain half of their energy from renewable sources (not including nuclear) by the year 2030. It has received widespread criticism from the business community and others as a threat to the state’s economy. Critics of the proposal say that it will lead to significantly higher monthly utility bills for families and a burdensome mandate on businesses looking to expand in the region.

The committee overseeing the initiative is in the process of collecting signatures required for it to appear on the November 2018 ballot — but its signature-gathering operation has fallen under a dark cloud of suspicion.

Arizonans for Affordable Electricity (AFAE), an organization fighting the mandate, filed a complaint Wednesday asking the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office to investigate the committee and its signature-gathering vendor after former employees came forward with allegations of impropriety.

AFAE says that it is aware of at least five former employees of FieldWorks, the signature-gathering vendor, who claim that they were wrongfully terminated. (The committee overseeing the ballot proposal paid FieldWorks more than $589,000 in the first quarter of 2018 alone; NextGen Climate Action, another political group tied to Tom Steyer, also provided the committee an in-kind contribution of more than $141,000 that was itemized as petition-gathering assistance though the same vendor.)

The former employees signed declarations confirming that they faced signature-gathering quotas while employed by FieldWorks ranging from 65 to 68 signatures during each eight-hour shift. Those performance standards, AFAE says, are prohibited in Arizona and constitute “yet another example of the initiative campaign and its billionaire benefactor Tom Steyer playing fast and loose with the law.”

“Election fraud is a serious matter, which is why lawmakers and Governor Ducey acted in 2017 to prohibit exactly these kinds of activities on the part of initiative campaigns,” said Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the affordable-energy coalition. “Signature gatherers who know they must meet an established quota in order to keep their job are incentivized to commit fraud.”

The complaint sent to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office is requesting that all signatures gathered by FieldWorks petition-circulators subject to the quota be deemed invalid, a major possible blow to the group’s goal of appearing on the midterm ballot.

The revelation comes less than one month after State Representative Vince Leach and State Senator John Kavanagh expressed concerns about “an alarming interference with the proper functioning of Arizona’s ballot initiative system.” The legislators said that the committee, by flooding the registration system with an excessive number of petition-circulators (“who will never collect a signature”) was “purposely creating a burden on the State.”

State Election Director Eric Spencer subsequently issued a criminal referral to the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for his review of the potential violations.

The committee overseeing the ballot proposal has faced near-constant criticism for its ties to Steyer, a Democratic Party mega-donor who is spearheading a national campaign to impeach President Donald Trump. All of the green-energy committee’s funding so far comes from NextGen Climate Action, another San Francisco-based political group funded by the California billionaire. Arizonans have not contributed a single cent to the effort, according to the newest campaign-finance reports.

The proposal met the disapproval of Arizona lawmakers in recent months, who warn that the mandate would have devastating economic impacts in their districts. A physics professor at Arizona State University also posited that such a mandate would actually make the state more dependent on fossil fuels than it is today without the assistance of nuclear energy, which the proposal excludes.

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