Tom Steyer-Backed Initiative Makes Ballot, But Accusations Of Foul Play Remain

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator
  • Tom Steyer has bankrolled Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona (CEHA), an initiative that wants half of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy.
  • Arizona secretary of state has determined enough CEHA signatures are valid, qualifying it for the 2018 ballot box. 
  • Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, an opposition group, accuses CEHA of not submitting enough valid signatures and trying to scuttle the review process. 

A sweeping renewable energy proposal has qualified for the Arizona ballot, but opponents are taking the matter to court, arguing that the campaign knowingly submitted an inadequate number of signatures.

A campaign operation pushing for greater wind and solar power use is one step closer toward reaching its goal. The Arizona secretary of state’s office announced Thursday night that Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona — an organization that wants to mandate half of Arizona’s electricity originate from renewable energy by 2030 — will make it on the 2018 ballot, putting the issue into voters’ hands.

However, a group fighting the measure says Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona knowingly submitted an insufficient amount of valid signatures needed to qualify — and attempted to scuttle proper review of their work by inundating the Arizona Secretary of State’s office with thousands of bogus signatures.

Increasing Arizona’s renewable energy portfolio to such a degree requires statewide approval from voters. In order to qualify for the ballot, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona (CEHA) was required to submit at least 225,963 valid signatures. Arizona has a unique — and seemingly convoluted — process for certifying signatures. A random five percent sample of signatures are transmitted to Arizona’s 15 counties, where county recorders must collectively validate at least 11,298 signatures and find no higher than a 50.28 percent signature failure rate.

Arizona county recorders ultimately validated 16,445 signatures and determined CEHA’s signature failure rate to be 27.63 percent — effectively qualifying the initiative for the 2018 ballot.

However, Arizonans for Affordable Electricity — a group opposing the renewable energy mandate — is challenging this finding in court. Not only does the group argue that county recorders failed to use strict compliance standards when checking signatures, they also point to documentation that indicates knew CEHA was aware that they did not reach their signature threshold.

According to documents obtained through discovery and obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, CEHA kept a running log of their signatures that checked for accuracy. Their own records indicate that they collected 480,401 signatures, of which they deemed only 220,181 were “valid” —  a signature fail rate of 53 percent.

“The YES campaign – by its own admission – only believed it had 220,181 valid signatures right up until they submitted the petitions to the State of Arizona,” said Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, in a statement to TheDCNF.

“In other words … they made a calculated decision to submit 480,000 signatures even though they believed only 220,000 were valid. The intent seems pretty clear – to flood the counties and overwhelm the government validation process,” Benson continued. “They made a bet that the checks and balances in place to keep fraudulent measures off the ballot would fail.”

In a recent deposition, Jessica Grennan, the initiative’s campaign manager, acknowledged that the campaign believed it had only 220,181 valid signatures.

The discovery calls into question Arizona’s signature validation process. An earlier investigation from Benson’s group found CEHA did not obtain a sufficient amount of signatures. CEHA, according to its own documentation, also determined they did not have enough numbers before submitting. But county recorders somehow determined enough signatures were legitimate.

Arizonans for Affordable Electricity has filed a lawsuit with the Maricopa County Superior Court over the matter. The judge’s rulings will likely have major ramifications for Arizona’s electricity market.

If voters pass the measure, state utilities would be forced to dramatically shift to wind and solar technology — 50 percent of their energy mix by 2030. Such a sweeping standard would be a major feat considering Arizona’s current renewable target is only 15 percent by 2025.

The initiative, for its part, has been almost exclusively bankrolled by NextGen Climate Action, an environmental super PAC Tom Steyer founded and funds. Through NextGen has given a total of $4.45 million to the Arizona renewable energy campaign.

Steyer, a billionaire activist from California, used NextGen to funnel nearly $1 million to the CEHA campaign at the beginning of 2018. Second quarter finance reports show NextGen has since donated another $3.5 million. Steyer’s organization has been the only major contributor to the initiative.

NextGen has provided 99.99 percent of total contributions donated to CEHA.

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