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Donations pour in to SB 1070 defense fund

Keep AZ Safe receives money from across country, globe

WASHINGTON — When Gov. Jan Brewer asked private donors last year to help pay legal fees to defend the state and its controversial SB 1070 immigration law against lawsuits, thousands of Arizonans responded.

And so did thousands of people from other states. And other territories and other countries.

Donations to the fund, which totaled $3.8 million as of Sept. 1, have come from all 50 states in the nation, several territories, the District of Columbia and countries as far-flung as Canada, Costa Rica and Micronesia.

Those donations have swamped the contributions from Arizonans, who make up about 15 percent of the 45,402 donors and about 10 percent of the total donations.

Supporters of the law say the broad reach of the donations is proof of the popularity of SB 1070.

“The geographic diversity of donors to the (fund) is a point of pride for the governor,” said Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Brewer, in an email. “People from all over the country have not only sided with Arizona on SB 1070, they’ve put their money with their mouth is.”

But critics said the “geographic diversity” of donors just shows that the law is not supported back home in Arizona.

“I’ve always believed that outside sources were going to fuel these anti-immigrant laws,” said Dee Dee Garcia Blase, founder of Somos Republicans, an Arizona-based conservative Hispanic organization.

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“It’s outside influences that are controlling these laws,” said Blase. She pointed to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who wrote both Arizona’s and Alabama’s immigration law, as an outsider promoting anti-immigrant sentiment in the state.

Among other controversial measures in SB 1070, which passed last year, the law originally let police officers ask suspects for their immigration status if there was reason to believe they were in the country illegally. Opponents said this would have let law enforcement engage in racial profiling.

Brewer opened the legal fund last year after then-Attorney General Terry Goddard said he would not defend the state or the law against court challenges because he did not support the law. So Brewer decided to hire private lawyers to handle the case and sought the public’s help in paying them.

Pro-immigrant organizations had already filed suit and the U.S. Department of Justice subsequently sued, claiming that the state law trespassed on federal responsibilities.

A federal judge blocked parts of the law last summer, and that decision was upheld in April by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Brewer has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court has not yet said whether it will hear the case or not.

In the meantime, contributions have continued to come in to the legal defense fund. Of the $3.8 million raised as of Sept. 1, Benson said about $2.06 million had been spent in legal fees.

Benson said the governor’s office has a Web site for the fund, but has not otherwise advertised it. But the money has rolled in.

The largest donations came last year, and most of those came from outside Arizona. Wyoming resident Timothy Mellon, who owns a railroad and other business interests, wired more than $1.5 million to the fund in 2010, the largest single donation.

There was also Joey Vento, owner of Geno’s Steaks, a Philadelphia restaurant, who donated nearly $67,000. Vento, who died in August, was known as an English-only advocate after posting signs in his business telling customers: “This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING Please 'SPEAK ENGLISH.” Vento was sued over the signs, but won.

The largest single in-state contribution came from a Joseph Van de Loo, who was listed as giving $10,000. The fund information was provided by Brewer’s office and gave no other information than the donor’s name, home state, donation amount and date.

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Mellon did not return a phone call and Vento’s family declined to comment. Cronkite News Service could not locate Van de Loo.

“The state’s vigorous defense of SB 1070 has, in part, been made possible by these generous donations,” Benson said. He said there is no expiration date for the fund so supporters of the law can still donate.

Donations ranged from Mellon’s all the way down to 25 cents, with the average donation nationwide at $84. But that number was skewed by Mellon’s contribution: With his donation taken out, the national average contribution was $49.84.

The average donation from Arizona was $55.

State Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said since Arizona has only donated 10 percent into the fund, it proves that SB 1070 is not as popular as many think.

“People have turned to Arizona and see it as a place where crazy ideas can become reality,” Gallardo said.

Dave Wells, a political science professor at Arizona State University, said it is only natural for the country to weigh in on Arizona’s immigration law since immigration has become a national issue.

“SB 1070 touches on an issue that other states have an interest in,” Wells said. “So, it’s really no surprise why people around the U.S. have an interest in it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the history behind then-Attorney General Terry Goddard’s decision to withdraw from the case. Goddard had said he was prepared to defend the state but withdrew after a dispute with Brewer, who had already set up the fund to hire private lawyers, over who should handle the case.

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2 comments on this story

Nov 1, 2011, 8:15 am
-0 +0

Terry Goddard shows his true colors by not wanting to defend his states law. Out of the closet bleeding heart liberal,open border,unamerican, unarizonan.  As long as the illegalborder invasion doesnt affect people personally, they dont care and really enjoy their strange attitude to let millions of law breaking, job taking, tax payer medicaide using masses of humanity to swarm into our country. Im sure Terry will be up for a demoadmin post somewhere in the future, or run for office.  I for one will remember your position on this law, Terrance. Maybe the only reason contributions to Brewers fund are not so great from Az. is that most people who are realists and support this law, are too poor to afford much. Props to you Jan for at least trying to stand up to Holder Obama and Napalitano. These flagrant violators of their oath to office, will not secure the border, will not enforce existing laws, and sue individual states who try to do the job the Feds wont do. Somethin aint right…..  Maybe the only reality these idiots would understand, is if they went to the emergency room, and were denied immediate care because all the beds are full of illegal border invaders getting costly free treatment costing taxpayers tons of money and actually threatening the solvency of many hospitals.  Az. continues to kick people off of ACCESS while treatment for illegal border jumpers continues. Close the border. Problems solved. Cut a snakes head off, not its tail.

Oct 31, 2011, 7:51 am
-0 +0

There is no “anti-immigrant” sentiment here. There are no “anti-immigrant” laws…

There is plenty of anti-illegal-immigrant sentiment, which I share and have had for some time.

A friend of mine put it best…knock on the front door of my home, I’m probably going to let you in. Sneak in the doggy door, and you’re gonna get shot. That’s exactly how I feel about immigration. I have zero problems with people immigrating to our country…I just want them to show us the respect of doing it by the rules, and show us the respect of understanding we don’t owe them anything, and they have to earn their way in.

What in the world is so wrong with that?!?!?

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Griselda Nevarez/Cronkite News Service

Dozens protested at the State Capitol in April 2010 against SB 1070, a bill that made being in the U.S. illegally a trespassing offense in Arizona, among other changes. Protesters urged Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the bill; she would sign it less than two weeks later.

Crossing borders to defend borders

The top 10 states for donations to Keep AZ Safe:

  • Wyoming: $1.55 million*
  • Arizona: $379,528
  • California: $328,841
  • Texas: $202,888
  • Pennsylvania: $126,867
  • Florida: $118,439
  • New York: $65,396
  • Washington: $60,679
  • Virginia: $53,167
  • Illinois: $52,525

* Includes single $1.5 million Timothy Mellon donation.