Invest in Ed files electioneering complaint against Arizona governor over Proposition 208 remarks

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Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich confirmed Saturday that his office is looking into an electioneering complaint filed by an attorney for Invest in Education, the nonprofit behind Proposition 208.

Roopali Desai, chief legal counsel for Invest in Education, filed the complaint with Brnovich’s office on Oct. 5.

“The Committee was disturbed to read media reports late last week indicating that Governor Doug Ducey advocated forcefully against Proposition 208 while speaking to small business leaders during regular business hours from his taxpayer-funded office while using a taxpayer-funded telephone line,” she wrote. “It’s difficult to imagine a more blatant and brazen violation of A.R.S. § 16-192, which provides that ‘this state … shall not spend or use public resources to influence an election, including the use or expenditure of monies, accounts, credit, materials, equipment, buildings, facilities, vehicles, postage, telecommunications, computer hardware and software, web pages and personnel and any other thing of value of the public entity.’”

Ducey made the call from his office on a taxpayer-funded line. In a recording of the call, Ducey was asked by a business owner about resources on communicating why voters should reject Prop. 208.

He responded, saying, “I guess I should have known that the small business community would know that this really is a small business killer. If Prop. 208 were to succeed, it would be a 77% tax increase on the state of Arizona. We would go from being the most competitive state in the nation, with low taxes and high quality-of-life to being uncompetitive.”

Brnovich’s office confirmed the matter but would not comment further. Ducey’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Arizona law forbids the use of public resources to sway a political issue, but there is a gray area that allows a public official to express their opinions, as permitted by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. For instance, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker regularly uses his news conferences to opine on the benefits of the progressive tax ballot initiative that’s on the November ballot there.

There is some local context that Desai referenced in the complaint that could work against Ducey. Two Phoenix Union School District teachers faced fines and discipline for advocating on behalf of the Invest in Education ballot initiative in 2018. According to the Arizona Republic, one teacher hung an Invest in Ed sign in his classroom while the other talked up the measure in a speech to other district employees.

Financially backed by the American Education Association and Stand for Children, a Portland, Oregon-based advocacy group, Invest in Education is the driving force behind Proposition 208. The ballot measure would increase the state’s top income tax rate by 77% to 8% and funnel those funds to hire and increase the pay of public school teachers and other paraprofessionals. If it passes, Arizona would have a top marginal income tax rate among the 10 highest in the nation.

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