Controversial Arizona nonprofit drops $1 million against Obama


In the past week, a GOP-led dark money group from Arizona that had barely spent any money on federal races has dropped more than $1.2 million to oppose President Barack Obama, as well as $60,000 to oppose Utah’s only House Democrat, Jim Matheson.

The nonprofit group, Americans for Responsible Leadership (ARL), organized as a 501(c)4 under the tax code, does not have to disclose its donors under federal law. However, it may be compelled to do so because of a strikingly large $11 million donation to a political organization in California. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is suing ARL, accusing it of knowingly giving to a political campaign, which requires donor disclosure. The FPPC and ARL are supposed to appear at a Sacramento court hearing on Wednesday. The web site Talking Points Memo has more details on the case.

The organization had barely spent any money on federal races until Oct. 23, when the spree began. It’s one of many organizations that have waited until the 11th hour to drop money into presidential and congressional elections.

ARL’s money is going towards phone calls to voters. Its Federal Election Commission reports say it is paying a North Carolina company called Headway Workforce Systems for “voter contact phones: personnel” and Washington, D.C.-based Angler, LLC for “voter contact: system.” Headway provides call center staffers and survey researchers. Angler specializes in “precise targeting” and “making sure that every dollar spent goes towards communicating with a target voter is critical to success,” according to its website.

The group’s newly-appointed president is former Arizona Speaker of the House Kirk Adams. He lost the GOP nomination in Arizona’s 5th District this year, an open seat because Rep. Jeff Flake is running for Senate. He could not be reached for comment.

Two of the organization’s founders, Robert S. Graham and Eric Wnuck, have unsuccessfully run for office in Arizona in the past and Graham authored an anti-union book. Another, Steve Nickolas, is a beverage industry executive, TPM reported.

In a court filing, ARL’s lawyer, Jason Torchinsky of the Virginia-based law firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak, denies that the donation to the California group was earmarked for state ballot measures. Torchinsky was also the lawyer behind a conservative nonprofit that sued the FEC because it could not decide whether the nonprofit's proposed TV ads criticizing the Obama Administration amounted to "electioneering," meaning they would have to be disclosed. A federal judge ruled earlier this month that the nonprofit had to disclose some of them, as Sunlight reported.