Bolding’s dark money continued - Adrian Fontes for Secretary of State

Scrutiny grows over Reginald Bolding and his nonprofit's support of bid for secretary of state Arizona Rep. Reginald Bolding speaks in support of gun control during a press conference at the Arizona Capitol on June 1, 2022, in Phoenix. Mary Jo Pitzl Arizona Republic

HTTPS://WWW.AZCENTRAL.COM/STORY/NEWS/POLITICS/ELECTIONS/2022/07/18/ADRIAN-FONTES-SUPPORTER-FILES-COMPLAINT-RIVAL-REGINALD-BOLDING/10088399002/   


Reginald Bolding is under growing scrutiny over the involvement of one of his nonprofits with his campaign for Arizona secretary of state. The connection, which suggests potential illegal coordination between the two organizations, is now the subject of a complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office. A citizen on Monday asked for an investigation into “an open violation” of Arizona campaign finance law. In addition, IRS records show Bolding’s nonprofit Our Voice Our Vote, as well as another nonprofit Bolding founded and runs, lost their tax exempt status in 2020 for failure to file tax returns for at least three straight years. The nonprofits have since been reinstated, but their tax filings cannot be found in any public forum. Adrian Fontes, Bolding’s rival in the Democratic primary for secretary of state, on Monday called for Bolding to resign from the nonprofits he formed and to apologize to the various nonprofits working for voting rights that have endorsed Bolding. Bolding, who currently is the minority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives, did not return a call seeking a response. His campaign issued a statement defending his ethical leadership at the Legislature and criticizing Fontes for making “desperate attacks” with two weeks until the Aug. 2 primary election. “While my opponent plays politics with his unfounded accusations, I’m focused on standing up to extremists like Mark Finchem who are a threat to democracy as we know it,” Bolding’s campaign manager, Gowri Buddiga, wrote. Finchem, who has widely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and who was near the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, is running for the Republican nomination for secretary of state. Daniel Arellano, an attorney representing Our Voice Our Vote, said in a statement that the organization has fully complied with all of its legal obligations. “We will vigorously defend against this baseless complaint and expect to prevail,” Arellano wrote. GOP side: Setting up another conflict with Trump, Ducey endorses Beau Lane for Arizona secretary of state ‘Somebody needed to file a complaint’ Scott Meyer, a Phoenix resident who said he voted for Fontes by early ballot, filed a request for an investigation into the activities of Our Voice Our Vote, a social welfare nonprofit that, by law, does not have to disclose its donors. State and federal law prevent coordination between so-called “dark money” or 501 (c) (4) groups and the candidates they back. Meyer said he was motivated by media coverage to step up. “Somebody needed to file a complaint,” he said. “I have connections, I have friends, I have a lawyer friend who helped me draft it.”

Meyer’s complaint details numerous examples of behavior that he alleges show illegal coordination between Our Voice Our Vote and Bolding the candidate. They include: • The nonprofit’s political action committee, of which Bolding is the registered federal agent, paid for a campaign flyer endorsing his candidacy and has sponsored numerous digital ads. State campaign finance records show the Our Voice Our Vote political action committee has spent $391,000 to date in independent expenditures supporting Bolding’s campaign. • Our Voice Our Vote staffers circulated nomination petitions for Bolding, constituting more than 30% of the total signatures gathered. “There is no possible way that these employees went out on their own time (often at the same time) during business hours to circulate campaign petitions on behalf of the candidate who was also their boss,” Meyer wrote.

• In a debate that aired in mid-June on 12 News’ “Sunday Square-Off” political show, Bolding was asked about his employees’ work on his behalf. He said he would expect the people who work with him to back him, something he has repeated several times. Bolding has said he stepped away from any involvement with the nonprofit’s election related work last year. A “firewall” agreement was signed in June 2021, and updated a year later, according to the document provided to The Republic. However, it is unclear what was changed in the agreement, and Our Voice Our Vote has not authorized its attorneys to talk about the matter.

Sophia Solis, a Secretary of State’s Office spokesperson, confirmed the report had been filed. The secretary of state can refer such complaints to the state attorney general if she finds “reasonable cause” of wrongdoing. The office is not commenting on Monday’s filing other than to say it will seek a response from Bolding and Our Voice Our Vote. Law: Spending by nonprofit run by secretary of state candidate Bolding raises questions about campaign finance Tax status revoked for failing to file Bolding released the 2020 tax returns for both Our Voice Our Vote and its sister organization, the Arizona Coalition for Change, to The Arizona Republic. Although accountant Otis Perkins signed the Form 990 reports, they were not signed by the nonprofits’ officer and were not dated. Perkins on Monday said he assumed the returns were filed with the IRS. When told the returns lacked a signature and dates, he said he needed more information. The Republic shared the returns it had been given with Perkins, but he did not respond Monday to requests for what he learned after reviewing the documents. Sena Mohammed, who replaced Bolding as director of Our Voice Our Vote after the firewall agreement was created, told The Republic last month the returns were submitted to the IRS.

“You will need to reach out to the IRS for the signed version of these documents,” she wrote in an email. However, there is no evidence on the IRS website of any Our Voice Our Vote filings since the organization was created in 2017, and only one filing for the Arizona Coalition for Change. That could be why the nonprofits lost their tax-exempt status in 2020. IRS rules say an organization that does not file returns for three straight years loses the ability to be tax exempt. Perkins, the accountant, said he was unaware of the revocations. “I don’t know the circumstances behind that,” Perkins said. IRS records show the nonprofits were reinstated as tax-exempt operations. The Coalition for Change got its status back in May 2021, while Our Voice Our Vote was reinstated in early January. A nonprofit has to file an application for reinstatement and pay a fee ranging from $275 to $600, according to IRS rules. There is no requirement to produce the missing Form 990s, said Rick Cohen, chief communications officer for the National Council of Nonprofits. “Generally, they’re starting from scratch,” he said of reinstated nonprofits. The required application does call for financial data, including revenues and expenses. Fontes: Resign, but not from the race Adrian Fontes prepares before a debate with Reginald Bolding as they compete for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Phoenix. Fontes said while he’s calling for Bolding to resign from the nonprofit roles, he isn’t asking him to get out of the race.

Fontes recalled his words when he criticized then-Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell in 2016 for long lines at the presidential preference election: He didn’t want her to step down, he wanted to beat her at the ballot box — something that he did in 2016. “That sentiment holds true here,” Fontes said Monday. He echoed many of the charges made in the complaint to the Secretary of State’s Office and said Bolding abused his position of trust as the co-executive director of a nonprofit that works to expand democracy and voting rights. “Mr. Bolding should be more concerned that what he did, and continues to do, is wrong, illegal, and possibly criminal, not that he got called out for abandoning his duties to the mission of his group,” Fontes said in a statement that he shared on Twitter and in a video posted on Instagram and his Facebook page. Reach the reporter at maryjo.pitzl@arizonarepublic.com and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.