Steyer-Funded Petition Accused of Employing Felons to Gather Signatures

Challenges mount against billionaire’s drive to mandate higher renewable use in AZ

Billionaire Tom Steyer / Getty Images

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A petition funded by California billionaire Tom Steyer that would put the question of a higher renewable mandate before Arizona voters this fall has been accused of employing felons for the signature drive to qualify for the ballot, a potential violation of rules governing signature collection in the state.

Arizonans for Affordable Energy (AFAE), a campaign opposed to the increase in the renewable mandate, submitted a letter to the secretary of state's election director on Monday asking for an investigation, arguing that if the office determines felons were used in the petition drive that the resultant signatures gathered by those people should be invalidated.

Arizona law dictates an individual who circulates a petition must be qualified to register to vote in the state. A person with a felony record would not meet that qualification unless he has had his civil rights restored.

It is at least the third legal challenge in just the last two months faced by Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona (CEHA), the group hoping to persuade voters to boost the state's renewable energy portfolio target from 12 percent in 2020 to 50 percent by 2030 by amending the state constitution. CEHA needs to submit roughly 226,000 valid signatures by July 5 to make the ballot.

According to campaign finance disclosures available at the end of the first quarter this year, CEHA was being funded completely by the PAC of California billionaire and political activist Tom Steyer. While Steyer's political focus in the last year has turned to the impeachment of President Trump, his original, long-standing political aims have been focused on issues related to energy and climate change.

"It's getting tough to keep track of the false, frivolous complaints filed on behalf of APS [Arizona Public Service Utility Company] because they are desperately throwing anything at the wall to see what sticks," CHEA spokesman Rodd McLeod told the Washington Free Beacon by email.  "APS is showing they will literally try anything to sabotage solar. Once again, APS wants to make this conversation about anything other than facts because they know Arizonans want a clean and healthy future for our state."

APS's parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp, is funding AFAE. However, the utility company took issue with McLeod's statement.

"The reasons we oppose Tom Steyer's irresponsible ballot initiative are simple—it's bad for customers, bad for power reliability and bad for Arizona's economy," APS media manager Jenna Rowell said in a statement. "APS has a 50 percent clean energy portfolio, including Palo Verde Generating Station—the nation's largest carbon-free power producer, and is a leader in solar and battery storage. We continue to deploy even more clean energy resources responsibly, without compromising affordability, reliability or Arizona's growing economy."

AFAE pointed to two petition circulators it says are felons in the letter it sent on Monday, claiming one has theft and kidnapping convictions from 1994, and claiming another was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide and forgery.

"Arizonans should be comfortable that the person approaching them with an air of authority and requesting petition signatures has not been convicted of kidnapping or homicide," the letter from AFAE said.

AFAE has another complaint also pending before the secretary of state, this one alleging that the company performing the work of the petition drive has imposed hourly quotas on their signature gatherers. As a part of that complaint, AFAE included sworn declarations from signature gatherers who said they were fired when they failed to meet hourly minimums.

Last year, Arizona governor Doug Ducey (R) signed a law passed largely along party lines that banned "pay-per-signature" practices for petitioning. The courts may still need to rule on whether "performance standards" such as hourly quotas for signature gatherers rises to pay-per-signature run afoul of this law.

McLeod is disputing the notion that hourly quotas were used at all.

"Our signature gathering operation does not use quotas," CEHA's Rodd McLeod said in a previous statement to the Beacon. "No one's pay, and no one's ability to stay employed is based on the number of signatures they collect."

When asked if the legal challenges were slowing down the signature drive, McLeod's only response was, "Nope."

In the first challenge against CEHA, two state lawmakers alleged the group violated state law by registering more paid circulators than they were using. CEHA countered the allegation by saying the source of the claims, a young man who had briefly been employed for the signature drive, had perjured himself in sworn statements he made to the two lawmakers.

Because Steyer is the lone funder of the ballot initiative, criticism of the effort has even come from the left side of the political spectrum.

"This proposal is being forced on our voters by a California billionaire," a pair of Democratic state lawmakers wrote in the Arizona Republic. "He and his political strategists have created this initiative as a mirror image of a regulation already adopted in their home state. But we don't believe a California plan is necessarily the right fit for Arizona."

Requests for comment to FieldWorks, the D.C.-based company spearheading the signature gathering effort in Arizona, were not returned.

Todd Shepherd

Todd Shepherd   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Todd Shepherd is a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon. He began his reporting career in radio, working as an anchor and reporter for KOMA in Oklahoma City and KOA in Denver. He spent eight years as the investigative reporter for the Independence Institute in Colorado, a free-market-based think tank. Campaigns and Elections magazine named him a "Top Colorado Influencer" for his reporting and news blog. He’s a graduate of the media studies program from Oklahoma Baptist University. His Twitter handle is @shepherdreports.

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