PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey won’t say whether he knows who is behind the single largest contribution to his re-election campaign.
He also won’t say if he’s asked who’s funding Blue Magnolia, the limited-liability company incorporated in Delaware just two weeks before it put $500,000 into the Ducey Victory Fund.
“I’m going to leave this to the lawyers that are working through this,” the governor said in response to questions from Capitol Media Services.
J.P. Twist, who managed Ducey’s re-election effort, also has deflected questions about the donation in the wake of a complaint filed with the Secretary of State’s Office by the Campaign Legal Center. That organization alleges that the newly formed Blue Magnolia was simply a front for someone else — Larry Van Tuyl, manager of the Berkshire Hathaway Automotive Group, which owns more than two dozen auto dealerships in Arizona.
The complaint itself is against Blue Magnolia and Van Tuyl.
Van Tuyl has not responded to messages seeking comment that were left with his Berkshire Hathaway office in Texas.
Brendan Fischer, director of the Campaign Legal Center’s federal reform program, said he has no evidence that Ducey or his campaign team were aware of who was behind the money from Blue Magnolia, which, as a 2-week-old company, had no assets to make that size contribution.
But Fischer said it “would be prudent to inquire further about the source of a contribution from a mysterious LLC with no public footprint.”
“Our campaign followed the law,” Ducey said. “If there’s an issue through this contribution, it’ll be figured out through this process.”
State law makes it a crime to make a contribution in the name of another person. Violations are a Class 6 felony, which carry a one-year prison term and a $150,000 fine.
The same law also makes it a crime for a candidate or committee to knowingly accept a contribution made by someone in the name of another person.
To explain the allegation that Van Tuyl is involved, Fischer points out that Blue Magnolia gave $100,000 to DefendArizona, a political action committee set up to help Martha McSally in her unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate.
After the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission, DefendArizona filed an amended report listing Van Tuyl as the actual contributor.
Fischer said he only became aware of the donation to the Ducey Victory Fund and filed his complaint after a story by Capitol Media Services about contributors to the governor’s re-election efforts.
Technically speaking, Ducey did not get to use the $500,000 directly to ensure another four years in office because of the prohibition on corporate donations to candidate campaigns. Instead, the Ducey Victory Fund was set up so that any donations Ducey could accept — meaning non-corporate contributions of less than $5,100 — would be transferred to the governor’s own campaign committee.
Anything else the governor could not accept personally was given to the Arizona Republican Party which, under current state law, not only can accept unlimited and corporate dollars but also is free to spend as much as it wants on behalf of any candidate — and without disclosing the amount. That’s why there is no record of how much the state GOP spent to help Ducey.
That exception may be going away.
Earlier this week, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Palmer voided changes in campaign-finance laws approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Ducey.
One of those changes created a new exception for political parties for expenses that have to be publicly disclosed when they spend money on behalf of candidates. Palmer ruled that lawmakers were powerless to make that change because the reporting requirement had been approved by voters in 1998 as part of creating the Citizens Clean Elections Act.
An appeal of that ruling is anticipated.
Van Tuyl, who owned the Arizona dealerships before selling them to Berkshire Hathaway in 2014, is no stranger to Ducey or Republican politics.
Days before the general election this year he gave $250,000 of his own money to the Ducey Victory Fund. That is a separate campaign committee set up by the governor and his supporters, which can take not only donations above the $5,100 individual limit but also corporate dollars.
Van Tuyl was less generous with Ducey in his first gubernatorial run, giving him $2,000 in his bid for the Republican nomination.
But Van Tuyl also provided $90,000 to the Arizona Republican Party in 2010.