Arizona says No Labels must accept all candidates even if the third party's leadership opposes them

Arizona’s top elections official says the No Labels party can’t block candidates from using its ballot line to run for office

Jonathan J. Cooper
Friday 29 September 2023 00:15 BST
Election 2024 No Labels
Election 2024 No Labels (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Arizona's top elections official says the No Labels party can't block candidates from using its ballot line to run for office, boosting opponents' efforts to force the movement for a third-party presidential ticket to release more information about its anonymous donors.

A senior official for Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, rejected No Labels' request to exclude two people who have filed paperwork to run for state office without the support of the party's leadership. One of the two people opposes No Labels and is deliberately trying to force the party to comply with Arizona's campaign finance laws.

Fontes' move was a victory for Democrats and other critics of former President Donald Trump who believe a third-party bid has no chance of winning the presidency but could spoil the election in Trump’s favor. No Labels has already qualified for the ballot in 11 states including Arizona, where it has registered 15,000 voters — more than President Joe Biden's 2020 margin of victory here.

Democrats have long accused the group of unfairly hiding who is funding its work and tried to force No Labels to name its donors. The group says it isn't required to disclose donors under federal law and withholds information to protect their privacy.

In a letter, Fontes' office told No Labels that he was obligated to accept statements of interest, the first step toward running for office, from anyone who meets the requirements to run. The letter, obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, said refusing their paperwork would violate their rights.

“The Arizona Secretary of State disagrees with your assertion that a newly recognized political party can choose to deprive its own voters of their constitutionally protected freedom of association,” State Elections Director Colleen Connor wrote in a Sept. 22 letter.

No Labels promised to sue. It had asked Fontes to reject the two candidacies filed without its approval and argued it doesn’t have to register as a political party under Arizona law or share its financial information because it only wants to compete for federal offices.

Leaders said both Arizona law and the U.S. Constitution allow political parties to opt out of participating in an election.

“Political pressure dictated the writing of this letter, not the law,” No Labels officials Jay Nixon and Benjamin Chavis Jr. said in a statement. Nixon is a former Democratic governor of Missouri and Chavis a former head of the NAACP. “The Secretary of State’s one-page letter is not a serious response to the request by the No Labels Party of Arizona.”

Even if No Labels files and loses a lawsuit, it may not have to disclose its donors in Arizona. A complex set of laws outlines the circumstances which political groups are required to report financial information intended to influence an election.

The No Labels Party of Arizona will register as a party if it raises and spends money, but it does not currently have a bank account, according to a No Labels official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the group's internal operations. The group funds its activities through nonprofits based in Washington.

Two potential candidates in Arizona have so far filed to run for office as No Labels party members: Tyson Draper for U.S. Senate and Richard Grayson for the state utility regulator, known as the Corporation Commission.

Grayson, who supports Biden, recently compared his plan to a “performance art piece.”

Alaska election officials also notified Grayson last week that he’ll appear on the primary ballot in that state for U.S. House as a No Labels candidate.

Grayson, a perennial candidate, has previously run for U.S. House in Wyoming despite living in Arizona, noting House candidates are only required to live in the state where they were elected once they take office.

Arizona, where Biden won by fewer than 11,000 votes in 2020 with a coalition that included conservative independents and moderate Republicans, is particularly vulnerable to a third-party ticket if it proves alluring to voters who dislike both candidates. The 2024 race is likely to be decided by a tiny margin in a handful of battleground states, just as the last two were.

No Labels is said to be planning a $70 million effort, far more than any third-party candidate has amassed since Ross Perot's 1992 and 1996 campaigns, which failed to win any electoral votes.

No Labels officials say they'll make a decision about whether to run a candidate after the Super Tuesday primaries in March.

Arizona has drawn the toughest state-level resistance. The state Democratic Party filed a lawsuit to block No Labels from the ballot but lost in court. Later, the party filed a complaint urging Fontes to block the group from the ballot until it follows campaign finance laws.

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