The battle over Proposition 420 will finally be decided after voters weigh in at the polls on Nov. 6, but is the hotly-contested ballot proposition enough motivation to boost voter turnout numbers in Scottsdale – which are typically lower in midterm elections?
If the huge sums of money thrown into campaigns this season – both for and against Prop 420 and for various City Council candidates – are any indication, the answer is yes.
Scottsdale’s voter turnout has exceeded 80 percent in the last two presidential elections – much higher than the 53.75 percent of voters that turned out in the 2014 midterm.
While Scottsdale’s turnout numbers are unlikely to reach presidential election year numbers this month, there is a chance that Prop 420 could provide a boost.
“All elections are local at the end of the day,” said Mike Noble, chief pollster with Phoenix-based OH Predictive Insights. “If it is something that is enough of a motivator or controversial in a local place, you could see more turnout because of that.”
“If it is a contentious and a talked about issue locally, turnout could be stronger,” Noble said.
Prop 420 definitely checks those boxes.
If passed, the proposition would create a charter amendment requiring public vote to approve any alterations to preserve land from its natural state, with some exceptions.
Those exceptions include allowing for the building of new trails approved by the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission, some trail or trailhead maintenance and restoration efforts.
Supporters argue that the charter amendment is necessary to prevent commercial development on the preserve. The proposition was originally sparked by the proposed $68-million Desert Edge project slated to be built near Gateway Trailhead.
Detractors have argued that the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Ordinance already contains protections against commercial development and that the Desert Edge project is an education center.
They also said the charter amendment would take power away from the elected City Council and put it in the hands of unelected McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commissioners, who are appointed by the council.
Follow the money
While the city waits to find out how many voters will show up at the polls, many residents, businesses and moneyed interests have already showed up with their bank accounts.
Money has played a major role in the campaign, with political action committees for both sides bringing in well over $100,000 over the course of the campaign.
Protect Your Preserve, an anti-Prop 420 political action committee, received over $61,000 from Oct. 1 to 21 from just six donors, with the bulk of that money coming from Chicago-based National Association of Realtors, which contributed $47,409.
Protect Your Preserve also received $11,853 from Phoenix-based Realtors Issues Mobilization Committee and $1,000 from an organization owned by New York architect Tom Hennes.
Hennes is principal and founder of New York’s Thinc Design, currently contracted by Desert Discover Center Inc. to design the Desert EDGE project.
Overall, Protect Your Preserve has raised $119,612 since its inception in August 2018.
The pro-Prop 420 group Protect Our Preserve has brought in nearly as much money, raising over $108,000 since it organized in December 2017.
In October, the group brought in $7,452.58 from 12 different sources. Just over $4,727 of these contributions came from individuals, though the organization did receive $2,000 from the Protect Our Preserve nonprofit group and $193.90 from Budget Mechanical – the local HVAC contractor owned by Councilmember Guy Phillips.
No DDC Complaint
The source of funding for groups supporting Prop 420 became a hot-button issue in September when a resident filed a complaint with the City Clerk’s office alleging that Protect Our Preserve and another pro-420 group, No DDC, had violated state campaign finance laws.
City Clerk Carolyn Jagger and City Attorney Bruce Washburn found no cause to move forward on the complaints against Protect Our Preserve.
But he did find that No DDC violated campaign finance laws by failing to register as a political action committee with the city, using corporate monies in support of or against specific candidates and failing to include proper disclosures on its fundraising solicitations.
Washburn notified No DDC that it is required to come into compliance with state law and is subject to a fine equal to the amount spent or received in relation to the violations.
No DDC has since registered as PAC with the city and turned over financial documents to Washburn, No DDC Chairperson Jason Alexander said.
Alexander said he agreed with the city’s determination and said the issues are a result of inexperience.
“It is clear that from the time Prop 420 came on ballot, we should have filed as a PAC,” he said.
Alexander said No DDC raised approximately $3,500 and spent approximately $250 prior to August 1 and that the organization will file an amended return for that period at a later date once the complaint is resolved.
Campaign finance reports filed by No DDC indicate the organization did not receive or spend any money related to ongoing campaigns from Aug. 1 to Oct. 20.
The City Attorney’s office is still reviewing No DDC’s response, a city spokesperson said.
Money has continued to flow in and out of City Council campaign coffers as Election Day approaches as well, with candidates making a final push to sway last minute voters.
Candidates filed their pre-election finance reports in late October. Though the reports only cover Oct. 1 to 20, they show that significant funds have changed hands during that time.
Two candidates, challenger Bill Crawford and incumbent Linda Milhaven, significantly out raised the others during the month of October.
Crawford took in the most money during this period. His campaign raised $27,476 since Oct. 1 – about 23 percent of the total of $116,184.05 he raised during his entire campaign.
Crawford’s contributions since Oct. 1 are a mixed bag that includes money from individuals tied to local businesses – like $2,000 from Ryan Jocque of Diego Pops and $6,350 from Ryan Hibbert of Riot Hospitality Group – and developers, including $3,000 from Bobby Agahi of Western Vertical and $1,000 from Dan Gabriel, an executive with San Diego-based developer ColRich.
Milhaven took in $19,195 over the final month of the campaign and raised $121,214 overall – the most of any candidate.
Contributions since Oct. 1 came from a mix of sources, including private individuals and local businesses, but the bulk came from individuals with ties to real estate or development, including $1,000 from Gabriel of San Diego-based developer ColRich.
Incumbents Kathy Littlefield and David Smith and challengers Bill Crawford and Solange Whitehead have all spent significant money over the past month on signs, mailers and other campaigns to get out the vote, according to pre-election campaign filings that cover Oct. 1 to Oct. 20.
Contributions to Milhaven and Crawford far outpaced those of the three other candidates. Despite spending significantly in October, none of the three raised more than $10,000 since Oct. 1.
Whitehead raised $7,599 during that time and $52,816.50 overall.
Smith only raised $4,125 during the final month, and $61,300 overall. Most of his contributions during October came from private residents, though he did receive $750 total from Pinnacle West Capital Corp PAC, which is associated with APS’ parent company, and Southwest Gas PAC.
Littlefield raised $2,415 in October and $46,528.50 overall. Most of her contributions during October came from private residents.
The challengers spent the most during October. Crawford spent the most of all candidates, doling out over $48,000 on direct mail and other outreach efforts.
Whitehead spent $30,640.36 since Nov. 1, mostly on signs and campaign mailers.
Littlefield ($25,879.60) and Smith ($22,852.58) also spent a significant amount on mailers and other outreach efforts.
The only candidate who did not spend much since Oct. 1 was Milhaven. Despite out raising all other candidates in the race over the course of the campaign season, she spent just over $300 during her campaign’s final push.
That low disbursement total stands in stark contrast to the contributions her campaign took in.