An incendiary political flyer hit the race for Phoenix mayor last week. The flyer is titled “Daniel Valenzuela Takes Blood Money” and on one side shows Valenzuela’s face on a $100 bill with a blood-stained handprint. Copies of it were left on cars outside the venue where a mayoral candidates forum was held on homelessness and housing affordability.
The group behind the flyer is Bringing Arizona to Action, a non-profit that organized to oust former Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2016. BAZTA has continued to criticize candidates it feels won’t stand for immigrant communities, and pins the blame on politicians who are backed by Phoenix and Arizona police unions and get contributions from private prison lobbyists.
“It’s shameful and downright absurd that Daniel is being attacked by this dark money group for supporting police and for being endorsed by an organization that has supported people on both sides of the aisle,” Valenzuela spokeswoman Michelle Kauk told the Arizona Mirror.
While Valenzuela inaccurately claimed the flyer was distributed by his opponent Kate Gallego’s allies, the group does not endorse any of the candidates for Phoenix mayor.
Valenzuela said in a video posted on Facebook the flyer was a smear tactic for his support of police officers. Several police organizations have endorsed his candidacy and actively campaigned for him. Valenzuela said he won’t be “intimidated by these nasty attacks,” and repeated his campaign promise to add more staffing to Phoenix’s law enforcement agencies.
“This community has 500 fewer cops today than 10 years ago. We will have a fully staffed police department and fire department with the proper training needed to serve our diverse community,” Valenzuela said. “I need your help to fight back against these dark money groups and people who are standing in the way of constructive conversation on topics that we should all be focused on.”
BAZTA is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, meaning it does not have to disclose where its money comes from.
Kate Gallego said in a statement she and her team first learned of the flyer when Valenzuela’s campaign posted it on social media and in an email.
“If any of us had seen it being distributed at the forum, we would have asked whoever it was to stop,” Gallego said. “This isn’t the type of campaign we’re running, and I discourage anybody from adopting negative tactics.”
On the flyer and its website, BAZTA criticizes Valenzuela for accepting money from lobbyists for CoreCivic, a private prison company. Some of those lobbyists also contributed to Gallego’s campaign for mayor, though they gave her campaign significantly less than they gave Valenzuela’s.
CoreCivic operates private prisons, including immigration detention centers. The company has not registered any lobbyists with the City of Phoenix. Consulting firm Molera Alvarez is a lobbyist for CoreCivic at the legislature. Five Molera Alvarez staffers contributed a total of $2,100 to Valenzuela’s campaign, while three staffers gave a combined $750 to Gallego’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports. (Two employees, Ruben Alvarez and Claude Mattox, gave to both candidates.)
In October, Gallego’s campaign decided it didn’t want the Molera Alvarez staff contributions, so it gave the $750 to Tiger Mountain Foundation, a non-profit with programs for formerly incarcerated people in South Phoenix, said campaign spokeswoman Maria Lopez.
BAZTA also points to contributions from Policy Development Group, which stopped lobbying for CoreCivic at the legislature in August 2018. Five employees of PDG gave a combined $3,850 to Valenzuela’s mayoral campaign, campaign finance records show, though $1,000 of that was made after PDG’s lobbying contract with CoreCivic was terminated.
BAZTA alleges Valenzuela is controlled by police unions like the Arizona Police Association, which it incorrectly called an “anti-immigrant hate group.”
Early in his campaign, Valenzuela was endorsed by the APA. The union works in tandem with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which represents Phoenix police officers. Both unions favor local police collaboration with federal immigration authorities, an issue progressive immigrant-rights groups advocate against.
Kauk, Valenzuela’s spokeswoman, said APA has endorsed both Democratic and Republican elected officials. Phoenix municipal races are nonpartisan, but both Gallego and Valenzuela are registered Democrats.
The unions have historically backed hard-line immigration positions. In 2010, they backed Senate Bill 1070, which was mostly struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional. They also endorsed the bill’s author, state Sen. Russell Pearce, during his recall in 2011, and were supporters of Arpaio.
PLEA has long argued illegal immigration and current border security policies make Phoenix less safe, stating last year that a “porous Southern border” allows “criminals from anywhere to enter the country illegally.”
According to Arizona Corporation Commission records, BAZTA’s board of directors includes immigrant rights and police accountability activists Viridiana Hernandez, who leads Poder in Action, and Carlos Garcia, director of Puente Arizona and a current contender in the Phoenix City Council race for District 8. Puente and Poder in Action — formerly the Center for Neighborhood Leadership — often clash with police unions.
“To us, if you are receiving an endorsement or money from entities that harm our communities, that are actively profiting from detention and deportation… You are actively taking a stance with those institutions,” Hernandez said. “That’s one of the biggest things for us. Your values are profiting from the pain of immigrants and people of color.”
Valenzuela has received $2,000 in contributions from police officer groups in Mesa, Peoria and Tucson. Kauk declined to explain how Valenzuela would work with immigrant rights groups on police accountability if he’s elected.
Gallego said she would address the concerns those groups have with police by emphasizing transparency in “community building and trust building.”
“We must continue to invest in new technologies that increase transparency while giving our officers the equipment they need to safely and effectively fight crime in every neighborhood,” she said. Gallego added she supports the “mission and expansion” of community action officers, who work with neighborhood leaders to broker relationships between police and the people they patrol.
Gallego added she backs the City of Phoenix’s dark money policy that requires groups like BAZTA to disclose their donors.
“I championed transparency and a ban on dark money in the City of Phoenix because I believe we’re all better served by campaigns that are a debate of ideas,” Gallego said. “We must shine a light on who is spending money on campaigns so the people can hold outside groups accountable.”
Phoenix voters in November approved a dark money disclosure ordinance that requires nonprofits to reveal their primary donors if they spend more than $1,000 for or against a candidate or ballot proposal in a municipal election. The ordinance is currently in conflict with a state law that prevents any government entity from forcing nonprofits to disclose donors.
BAZTA hasn’t filed any campaign finance reports since it registered its committee in October.
Former Mayor and police union disagreed over immigration
PLEA’s stance on immigration clashed with the progressive leadership of former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.
PLEA was critical of Stanton’s position on immigration statements, including his acknowledgement that immigrant communities felt threatened with new policies from President Donald Trump.
In January 2017, Stanton denounced Trump’s immigration and border security executive orders, calling the policies “a divisive attack on Latinos in Phoenix and around the country.” PLEA President Ken Crane shot back at Stanton, saying he was pandering and fear-mongering at the expense of police officers’ safety.
“Your comments indict a police department and police officers based on conduct you believe may occur,” Crane wrote. “My guess is it would be too much to ask you to side with the men and women in law enforcement and the citizens of Phoenix over people who choose to enter the country illegally.”
Crane also gave a nod to Trump, writing that during the president’s inauguration, “the vast majority of men and women in law enforcement nationwide heaved a collective sigh of relief knowing that we finally got a Commander in Chief who understands the rule of law.”
Stanton, who resigned last year and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November, later asked Trump to postpone a rally in Phoenix in August 2017.
Phoenix will hold elections March 12. District 5, which covers west Phoenix, and District 8, in south Phoenix, Laveen and parts of central Phoenix, will also elect councilmembers. The deadline to register to vote for this municipal election is Feb. 11. To register to vote, visit servicearizona.com. To check if you’re registered to vote, click here. In-person early voting will be available from Feb. 13 to March 8 on the 15th floor of Phoenix City Hall.
Gallego was first elected to the City Council in 2013, and Valenzuela became a councilmember in 2012. Both resigned their council seats last year to run for mayor.