Steyer-Backed Petition in Arizona Under Fire

Opponents of renewable energy initiative challenge signatures in court

Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer / Getty Images

Opponents of a petition to place a question on Arizona ballots in November that would increase Arizona's reliance on renewable energy are arguing in court this week that the Secretary of State was wrong to certify the petition drive.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona (CEHA), a committee financed almost exclusively by California billionaire political activist Tom Steyer, organized the petition drive and submitted about 480,000 signatures, needing roughly 226,000 of those to be valid. The Arizona Secretary of State’s office said last Friday the petition drive was qualified to make the ballot, exceeding the number of signatures needed by 100,000.

Arizonans for Affordable Electricity (AFAE), a group opposed to the measure funded primarily by a utility company in the states, argued that some signature gatherers were felons, which in most cases would violate state law. The judge presiding over the case this week threw out the petition books submitted by felons who had not had their civil rights restored, according to the Arizona Republic.

However, observers say it is hard to estimate how that impacts the total number of valid signatures.

AFAE claims signature experts they hired found that almost 195,000 of those who signed the petition were not registered to vote. However, the judge in the case has already shot down the notion of doing a full line-by-line validity test.

Finally, AFAE is banking on testimony in which one of the organizers acknowledged their own estimate of valid signatures was less than the 226,000 needed prior to turning them in, but lawyers for the organizers have claimed the statement is being taken out of context.

One of the drive organizers said during a deposition that on July 3—two days before they would turn in signatures to election officials—their internal estimate was that they had about 220,000 valid signatures.

AFAE claims this is proof that the petition drive knew it did not have enough valid signatures to be qualified for the ballot, yet submitted the petitions anyway in an act of deception, hoping the method of sampling only portions of the petitions would fail to detect the true number of invalid signatures.

"By submitting more than twice as many signatures as the campaign believed were valid, it's clear they intended to flood the system with phony petitions and overwhelm the counties' ability to conduct a meaningful review," Matt Benson, the director of AFAE told the Washington Free Beacon by email. "This was fraud, plain and simple."

Attorneys for CEHA told Tucson.com the estimate represented signatures that they were absolutely certain would be found valid, and that thousands of others in the mix stood a reasonable chance at being found valid as well.

"Last Friday, the Arizona Secretary of State certified the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona ballot measure as Proposition 127," said D.J. Quinlan, a spokesman for CEHA. "With a 72 percent validity rate it has easily qualified for the ballot in November. Currently, the corporate monopoly APS is suing to remove this Proposition from the ballot with a discredited allegation that a majority of the signatures are bad. This is after it was revealed that APS has spent over $11 million of customer money this year opposing clean energy. We are confident that the court challenge will not succeed and that Arizona voters will have a chance to vote for the clean energy future they desire."

If the question survives the court challenge and is placed on the November ballot and wins, the state's constitution would be amended to demand that Arizona's renewable energy portfolio would be boosted from 12 percent in 2020 to 50 percent by 2030.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona has spent about $8.4 million thus far on the campaign, according to recent data from the Arizona Secretary of State's website. All of the contributions to the committee have come from one of Steyer's PACs, NextGen Climate Action, with the lone exception of a $4.88 donation from a single individual.

Steyer is currently the top donor nationwide to Democratic candidates and causes, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. While he has garnered plenty of media attention for his "Need to Impeach" campaign and for his multi-million dollar efforts to help Democrats retake the House of Representatives, he still remains involved with local environmental efforts such as this one, which formed the majority of his early political activity.