Texas billionaire-backed group will donate to Arizona pension initiative

Laura & John Arnold

A non-profit funded by Texas billionaire John Arnold will pour a quarter-million dollars into an independent expenditure committee to support the campaign to help repair Arizona’s financially fragile pension system for public-safety workers, The Arizona Republic has learned.

The former hedge fund manager backs Action Now Initiative, a 501(c)(4) social-welfare organization based in Houston that supports advocacy efforts to educate the public on obesity, education, pension and criminal justice reforms, according to its tax forms. Action Now Initiative did not return calls requesting comment.

The money will soon be transferred to the independent expenditure committee, which will aid the pension-reform campaign, known as Proposition 124, said J.P. Twist, a contract aide to Gov. Doug Ducey. The committee, known as Arizonans for Strong Leadership in Support of Prop. 124, was created last week.

FACT CHECK:  No requirement that Prop. 123 money go ‘directly’ to classrooms

Prop. 124 will be on the May 17 statewide ballot, alongside Prop. 123, an education-funding measure. Twist is managing the Prop. 123 campaign, and passage of the initiative is critical for Ducey, who has come under fire by those who believe he is inadequately funding public K-12 education.

Twist and Ducey deputy chief of staff Danny Seiden met with representatives of the Action Now Initiative on March 11 in Houston.

READ MORE:  Proposals seek to upend Arizona election system

“We went out there and said, ‘This is important to the governor, it’s important to the state, we’re big supporters of Prop. 124, we want to see if you guys are willing to help invest in the campaign,'” Twist said. “We talked about Prop 124, they committed to give us money, we’re excited.”

Twist said he arranged the meeting. He said it occurred on their personal time and the trip was privately funded.

The gathering occurred one day after sponsors of the Open and Honest Arizona campaign suspended their efforts after Arnold, a major financial backer of the campaign, pulled out.

Twist said the timing of the meeting was coincidental.

The Open and Honest campaign had been advocating creation of a top-two primary system and to require disclosure of “dark money,” non-profit spending with funds from unidentified donors to influence political races. Arnold said he never intended his funding to be used on the dark-money portion of the campaign.

Twist said his conversations with Action Now Initiative representatives focused solely on Arizona’s pension-reform efforts, and there were no discussions about the Open and Honest campaign or the notion of opening up primary elections to independents.

A day after March 22 election debacle in Maricopa County, Ducey shocked members of the Republican Party by announcing he wants to allow independents to vote in presidential preference elections without having to re-register with a party.

Twist said Ducey thinks the pension-reform plan will put Arizona on the right path.

“He wants to make sure it gets passed,” Twist said. “Both campaigns are working to target the voters we need to be successful on May 17,” he said, specifically high-efficacy voters, independents and the bases of the Republican and Democratic parties.

Twist said the Action Now Initiative has been following Arizona’s pension reform efforts through the Libertarian Reason Foundation, to which Arnold’s foundation has contributed.

Sen. Debbie Lesko, who spearheaded the pension reform effort, said the foundation has had a seat at the pension-reform table from the beginning, saying representatives provided studies, analyses and information about other states’ pension systems. Lesko said the group was “very helpful,” and “vital to the negotiations.”

Follow the reporter on Twitter @yvonnewingett and reach her atyvonne.wingett@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4712.

 http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/politicalinsider/2016/04/05/texas-billionaire-backed-group-donate-pension-initiative/82527178/