Arizona senator threatens to sue over negative school funding ads

State Senator Kate Brophy McGee is threatening to sue a Political Action Committee for defamation over negative ads criticizing her record on K-12 education spending.

Her attorney disputes the group’s claim that Brophy McGee voted to cut a total of $1.2 billion from Arizona schools during her career as a legislator. The committee, Great Schools Now, spread the message through direct mail and digital advertisements.

Brophy McGee is a former state representative who has represented Phoenix in Legislative District 28 in the state Senate since 2017.

In an effort to challenge Brophy McGee, Great Schools Now released a Cease and Desist Letter October 19 sent by his lawyer Michael Liburdi, who works for the law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Until May, Liburdi served as general counsel to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

In the letter, Liburdi described the claim that Brophy McGee voted to cut $1.2 billion as “demonstrably false.” He pointed to his votes in the state Legislature in favor of budget increases that have incrementally added more than $1.75 billion to the state’s education funding pool.

“Your misrepresentations against Senator Brophy McGee are defamatory and significantly damage his reputation,” Liburdi wrote in the letter. He demanded that Great Schools Now remove the digital ad containing the statement.

“If you do not immediately cease and desist, Senator Brophy McGee intends to hold you fully liable for compensatory and punitive damages,” Liburdi wrote.

In an interview on Tuesday, Great Schools Now treasurer Doug Kilgore said the group has no plans to remove the ads. After receiving the letter, Kilgore said he felt “disappointed that Senator McGee was trying to bully us”.

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A letter sent by the Great Schools Now political committee.

Great schools now

“We were confident in our numbers, and we would much rather work with Senator McGee to see how we are going to close our funding gap that we have in this state – which is well documented – than try to hide the facts” , said Kilgore.

Kilgore is also a lobbyist and organizational consultant with the Arizona Education Association.

He said Brophy McGee’s team’s calculations were too generous for lawmakers. The $1.75 billion figure Liburdi cited excludes annual funding increases that only account for Arizona’s growing student population, he said.

Republican Brophy McGee faces a competitive re-election challenge from Democratic opponent Christine Marsh, who was named Arizona’s teacher of the year in 2016.

Recent campaign finance revelations show Great Schools Now spent more than $26,624 in independent expenses to defeat Brophy McGee, as well as other expenses to bring down Republican lawmakers JD Mesnard and Sylvia Allen.

In Tuesday’s press release, Great Schools Now released a total sum of spending cuts attributable to Brophy McGee’s K-12 voting record that was even greater than their previous claim. The statement lists $3.23 billion in cuts the committee attributes to Brophy McGee’s State House and Senate voting record since 2011.

Great Schools Now argues that during his tenure in the Legislative Assembly, Brophy McGee only restored $985 million in funding for schools, representing a $2.25 billion K-12 funding hole. of dollars.

Brophy McGee’s campaign called the group’s calculations “laughable”.

In an interview, campaign consultant O’Daniel said Brophy McGee made the decision to file the cease-and-desist letter because his opponents “misrepresent his record of defending public education in this state, and we think it’s important that they recognize that.

He also called Great Schools Now a “shadow syndicate” group and noted Kilgore’s dual role with the AEA.

O’Daniel said, “I absolutely think this is an organized effort by the AEA to try to undermine Kate Brophy McGee’s record of educational achievement.”

Great Schools Now’s funding calculation, he argued, is misleading because it omits Brophy McGee’s support for a 20-year extension for Proposition 301, a sales tax increase that generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year in school funding, and Proposition 123, a voter-approved funding increase that settled a previous lawsuit over school funding. (Proposition 123, it should be noted, was reversed by a federal judge in March.)

When asked if Brophy McGee really intended to follow through on his threat of a lawsuit if Great Schools Now didn’t pull the ads, O’Daniel didn’t offer a concrete answer.

Instead, he acknowledged the fight will be “more in the court of public opinion.”

Read the public statement released by Great Schools Now on October 23 in response to Brophy McGee’s attorney’s cease-and-desist letter.