Arizona Public Integrity Alliance President Tyler Montague recalls exactly why he and others were moved to set up their advocacy organization.
It happened during the successful 2011 campaign to recall the then-President of the Arizona Senate, Russell Pearce. He was often approached by people who quietly offered their support, then said they donated the maximum to the Pearce campaign.
They were afraid of retribution because politicians tend to get upset if they are challenged, Montague told the Arizona Business Daily.
It was disheartening to see that type of cynicism and people without the courage of their convictions, he said, but it prompted him and others to set up the alliance in 2012. Many were involved in the Citizens for a Better Arizona, the main campaign group behind the ouster of Pearce, and most are Republicans.
“We have been threatened, and we are in the thick of it a lot, but that is OK because that is what we stand up for -- public integrity and standing up against abusive government,” Montague said.
And the alliance wants to to take the hits for others, he said. While the alliance goes after what Montague describes as “bad actors” and challenges the actions of politicians, the group is also involved in wider issues linked to the electoral system.
He cites the successful legal challenge to the rule that candidates for statewide office have to gather signatures of a certain percentage of voters in at least three counties.
Attorneys for the organization argued in federal court that this was a breach of the equal protection clause of the Constitution because vastly more signatures are needed in Maricopa County than in tiny Greenlee. The state dropped its challenge, and admitted the rule was unconstitutional, that it did not treat all people equally.
“We changed the way elections are done,” Montague said.
In a similar vein, alleged unfairness in the electoral process is being challenged in the city of Tucson over its hybrid system in which each ward holds a primary limited to residents in that area. The winners of those primaries then advance to the citywide, at-large general election. The effect of the system is to give some constituents a vote of disproportionate weight, the alliance argued in court documents.
The alliance alleges the hybrid system violates both the Arizona and U.S. constitution because it deprives voters in wards of the right to vote in primary elections for individuals who will ultimately represent them.
That challenge was upheld by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, said Montague, but that decision was overturned by the court en banc, that is by the full panel.
“We have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court...and are confident it will be overturned if it is taken up,” Montague said, noting that 79 percent of decisions by the 9th Circuit Court are overturned in Washington, D.C.
Montague also believes there is a good chance the Supreme Court will take up the case because it raises some interesting issues. He said the Scotus blog, which tracks cases, said there is a one in three chance it will be reviewed.
Montague said the Arizona Public Integrity Alliance will “continue to be involved, pick and choose those things we want to get involved in.”
And that includes national figures. In December, it posted a video lampooning President Donald Trump that featured Phoenix comedian Brian Nissen as his character “Dwain.”
The alliance remains an organization staffed by volunteers, said Montague, but they are able to call on professionals, including attorneys and media consultants, when needed. And, Montague vowed his group will continue to fight it out on behalf fearing retribution.
“Our unofficial motto is give us your money, and we will take your hits,” he said.