Senate President Russell Pearce will not be able to get financial help from corporations to keep him in office, at least not directly.
In a formal legal opinion, state Solicitor General David Cole rejected the contention of Lisa Hauser, an attorney who represents Pearce, that the prohibition on those donations that applies in regular candidate races is inapplicable in recall elections.
Cole said the law is clear that neither corporations nor unions can make contributions designed to “influence an election.’’ And he said a bid to oust a sitting legislator from office fits that definition.
Cole wrote the decision rather than Attorney General Tom Horne, who had recused himself because of his political ties to Pearce.
Under Arizona law, a formal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office can be cited as legal precedent, much like a court ruling. The fact that this opinion was signed by Cole and not Horne does not change that.
Hauser said a campaign committee formed to aid Pearce had accepted a small corporate check — she said it was about $1,200 — but returned it when state Elections Director Amy Bjelland questioned the legality of the move. It was Hauser who then sought the formal opinion.
“If that’s the AG’s opinion, unless we go to court to change it, it is what it is,’’ she said. But Hauser said that is unlikely to happen.
If nothing else, she said, the opinion clarifies that corporate and union money will be off limits not only to Pearce but to anyone who decides to run against him.
“We just want to make sure everybody’s playing by the same set of rules,’’ Hauser said.
But Cole pointed out there is a loophole of sorts in the law.
He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that corporations and unions have some of the same free-speech rights as individuals. While that does not disturb state or federal laws prohibiting contributions directly to candidates, there can be no laws which bar either type of organizations from forming or contributing to separate efforts to elect or defeat any particular candidate.
The only requirement is that these committees be completely independent of — and have no connection of any sort to — the candidate.
Randy Parraz, one of the recall organizers, said his committee has not accepted either corporate or union money. But Parraz will not disclose who paid for the successful petition drive, at least not yet.
“A lot of this has to do with people’s fear,’’ he said, intimating that those who helped with the recall might be the subject of some sort of unspecified retaliation. He said some people gave just $25 because the sources of contributions at that level and below do not need to be detailed.
“We’re going to comply,’’ he said. “We don’t feel compelled to have to disclose at this point.’’
Bjelland confirmed that for this unusual election — the first ever for a statewide or legislative office — the first campaign finance reports do not have to be filed until Oct. 27. That is only two weeks before the vote.
In a separate event Monday, Parraz attempted to deliver a letter to Pearce at his Senate office asking him to resign.
That is one option he has under state recall laws. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors would then choose a replacement.
But Pearce said he has no intention of quitting and believes he will win the recall and be able to serve out the balance of his two-year term.