AZ Secretary of State nominee’s nonprofit spending raises questions

Reginald Bolding ran two nonprofits for five years, focused on raising the voices of minorities and disenfranchised groups on issues ranging from voting to the environment.

But the recent actions of one such nonprofit and the network of groups it connects with raise questions of potential violations as it seeks a Democratic nomination for secretary of state. Arizona.

Bolding is the founder and director of the nonprofit Our Voice Our Vote, a “dark money” organization that does not have to name its donors. His political action committee, of which he is the designated agent for federal purposes, paid for advertisements promoting his candidacy.

State law prohibits these committees from coordinating with candidates, and violations are subject to civil penalties.

Bolding challenger Adrian Fontes said the setup appears to be breaking the law. Bolding said his opponent’s allegations were “dishonest” and maintains that enough safeguards were built in.

Our Voice Our Vote is also is part of Activate 48, another black money organization that supported him and paid for mailers touting his campaign.

Other members of this coalition – Living United for Change, Mi Familia Vota and Chispa, an environmental nonprofit organization – have endorsed Bolding.

Separately, a political action committee Bolding created in 2018 donated $4,800 to his 2020 campaign, even though the PAC treasurer said he had no idea of ​​the expenses, said they were inappropriate and thought the fund had been dissolved a year ago.

Bolding acknowledges that the lens surrounding Our Voice Our Vote is not flattering. But he said he isolated himself and his wife, who is co-executive director, from his campaign-related operations. He insists that this is not the typical black money group that forms under the guise of a welfare organization, but is primarily focused on campaigning.

“When people talk about black money, they’re not talking about these grassroots organizations,” he said, referring to the work done by Our Voice Our Vote and its sister organization, the Arizona Coalition for Change.

Our Voice Our Vote works on progressive causes, from expanding access to the ballot box to supporting civil rights legislation to voter registration. In June, he hosted a virtual screening of “Suppressed and Sabotaged: The Struggle to Vote,” a documentary centered on the electoral struggle in Georgia during the 2020 election cycle. After the screening, Bolding participated in a Q&A- responses with viewers.

He compared his situation to that of Stacey Abrams, who founded the nonprofit organization Fair Fight in Georgia and has now received that group’s endorsement in her run for governor. Abrams no longer works with the organization.

And he blamed Adrian Fontes, his opponent in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary, for the scrutiny he is facing.

“It’s no coincidence that they’re trying to create a story,” Bolding said, adding that he’s seen text messages and emails from the Fontes team buying his nonprofit ties to people. journalists. “I think voters will see through. It’s dishonest.”

Fontes did not respond to the accusation.

He said the actions of Our Voice Our Vote and Bolding “make every appearance of a breach of law”.

He pointed to the nonprofit’s Twitter posts highlighting Bolding’s opposition to many election bills introduced by Legislative Republicans — a potential sign of poor coordination between the nonprofit and the campaign. of the candidate. The posts were later deleted.

“I am not responsible for a black money organization paying my salary,” Fontes said.

Create distance with the candidate

Bolding said he established a firewall to separate himself and his wife, Cymone, from any election-related activity associated with Our Voice Our Vote.

Bolding provided an updated version of the document to the Arizona Republic. It shows the original deal was in effect on June 14, 2021, the day he announced his candidacy, but amended exactly one year later.

It’s unclear what was changed in the three-page document. Danny Arellano, an attorney who represents Our Voice Our Vote, said Thursday he could not speak about the deal without first notifying the nonprofit. He said he did not know when the Boldings retired from political work associated with Our Voice Our Vote.

The amendment was added weeks after Our Voice Our Vote paid for a campaign flyer promoting Bolding for Secretary of State and a day before he taped a segment on 12 News’ Sunday Square-Off, where host Brahm Resnick asked Bolding about the endorsement he received from his nonprofit. Bolding replied that he would expect the people who work with him to support him, a statement he repeated repeatedly.

What the Coordination Act says

Despite its insistence that Our Voice Our Vote is not a typical black money organization, state law requires it to follow the same rules as all social welfare nonprofits, known as 501(c)(4)s.

The law assumes that there is coordination between a candidate and a 501(c)(4) if the candidate is authorized to raise funds on behalf of the organization. This is a “rebuttable presumption,” according to state law, which means a candidate must provide evidence to the contrary to rebut any unlawful coordination.

This week, Activate 48, an umbrella group for a number of nonprofits, sent out campaign materials promoting Bolding. The organization previously endorsed Bolding. Our Voice Our Vote is one of the partners of Activate 48.

If elected, Bolding said he would step down from his duties with Our Voice Our Vote and the Arizona Coalition for Change. It would probably also concern his wife, he said this week, but he said he had not discussed the matter with her.

Federal tax forms Bolding shared with The Republic show the Boldings earned a total of $141,333 in 2020 leading the Arizona Coalition for Change. Bolding was the only salary listed on Our Voice Our Vote’s comeback, earning $82,000 in 2020.

Sena Mohammed, who now leads Our Voice Our Vote operations, said the group has yet to file its 2021 statement.

No Opinion on the Anti-Black Currency Measure

At the end of 2020, Our Voice Our Vote reported a balance of $1.8 million, according to Form 990 provided to The Republic. Its top donors were a combination of six nonprofit organizations or foundations, including state and local organizations that promote suffrage and electoral issues.

The donors were the Democracy Alliance of Washington DC; the Movement Voter Project in San Francisco; Arizona Wins, a local 501(c)(4); Way to win walnut, California, America Votes, also outside DC; and the Open Society Foundation, funded by billionaire George Soros.

Due to Our Voice Our Vote’s 501(c)(4) status, it is not necessary to disclose the names of the individuals who have funded these donor organizations.

This could change if the Right to Know Act becomes law. A citizens’ initiative led by former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, the measure would require donor disclosure after a certain amount of money was spent by a black money group on a campaign. The Secretary of State’s office and county election offices are reviewing the initiative to make sure it has the proper signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Bolding has no position on the measure; he said he hadn’t had time to explore it. If he is elected Secretary of State, and if the measure is adopted, he will have to administer it.

Our Voice Our Vote is silent on the initiative, though it promotes another election-related ballot measure, Arizona’s Fair Elections Act.

“A little shocked” by the donation

Four years ago, Bolding and fellow lawmaker Diego Espinoza created the Bold AZ Leadership PAC, with Bolding as director and Espinoza as treasurer.

The PAC supported Democratic legislative candidates and opposed Republicans in the 2018 election cycle, but ultimately failed in its aim to wrest control of the House of Representatives from Republicans, who have held a majority for 60 years. .

At the end of the election, there was $17,800 left. After spending some money on a fundraising trip and paying Democratic Party dues, Espinoza said the intention was to use the rest of the money for educational purposes. PAC did this with a $4,870 contribution last July to the Tolleson Women’s Club to pay for scholarships.

In late March, the PAC gave Bolding’s campaign $4,800, according to campaign finance records. It was news for Espinoza when a reporter asked about the donation.

“I’m kind of shocked that he sent those dollars,” Espinoza said. He believed that the PAC was disbanded after the scholarship was awarded.

Espinoza, who is backing Fontes in the Aug. 2 primary, said he had an exchange of text messages with Bolding from June 2021, discussing plans to close the PAC. That never happened: the PAC still had $70 in its coffers as of mid-April, according to the latest report. Espinoza is still listed as treasurer.

Bolding did not respond to a request to discuss the transaction. It is legal for the director of a PAC not associated with a 501(c)(4) organization to send money to their own campaign, as long as the contribution does not exceed the $5,300 limit. But by law, a 501(c)(4) cannot make a direct contribution to a candidate, although it can make independent expenses.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.

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