It’s “nobody’s business” who donates to a corporation that gives money to a Tucson political action committee, the president of a so-called “dark money” group testified in court Friday.
Republican activist Christine Bauserman testified in a lawsuit against the Foundation for Responsible Accountable Government Inc.
The lawsuit, filed by Democratic activist Barbara Tellman, claims the corporation is not registered to do business in Arizona. Tellman is asking for a temporary restraining order to keep the company from conducting any further business in the state until it registers with the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Gus Aragon did not rule from the bench Friday but said he would make a ruling as early as Saturday, Oct. 3.
Tellman testified that she had a hard time getting information about the foundation, a group that is paying for billboards she finds “highly offensive” and inaccurate.
“I think their attempt to influence an election is a type of business transaction,” she said.
Tellman’s attorney, Vince Rabago, said the case isn’t about restricting free speech but if the group wants to participate in local elections “the least they can do is register.”
Bauserman testified that the foundation doesn’t do any business in Arizona. Rather, it organizes town hall meetings and communicates to citizens through emails, blog posts and a survey of voters.
“They’re not in the business of participating in Tucson elections. They’re not in business,” said Andrew Barbour, an attorney for the foundation.
Tellman’s being offended isn’t harm that’s ground for an injunction, he said, adding that the lawsuit is meant to stifle the group’s protected political expression.
In a series of mostly “yes” or “no” answers to questions, Bauserman explained she is both president of the foundation and co-chair of political action committee Revitalize Tucson.
She makes grant applications to the foundation on behalf of the committee and also cuts the checks for the donations from the foundation to the committee. She also does the paperwork to report the expenditures of the committee using the foundation’s money.
The two groups have in common the same three board members — herself, former state Sen. Frank Antenori, and Sean Bailey, Bauserman said. The foundation hasn’t given grants to any group other than the Revitalize Tucson committee, she said. However, the two groups are not related, she said.
Asked where the foundation’s money came from, Bauserman said, “It’s nobody’s business who the donors are.”
The judge agreed, twice, telling Rabago not to ask about donors and saying “I really don’t see why it’s anyone’s business.”
Bauserman also disagreed with Rabago’s characterization of the donations as political donations, saying the money was from grants for policy advocacy.
The $50,200 in donations from the foundation are reported as political contributions to the committee on city forms, which also report that $45,600 of the money was spent on billboard ads attacking City Council incumbents.
Rabago called the foundation a dark money group, causing Antenori to throw his hands in the air. Barbour said that’s name-calling.
Contact reporter Becky Pallack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4346. On Twitter: @BeckyPallack