Home > Elected Officials, Libertarian, New Media, Politics > AZ Gubernatorial Debate Limits Participants And May Violate IRS Rules

AZ Gubernatorial Debate Limits Participants And May Violate IRS Rules

By Elisha Dorfsmith

Social media has exploded over the past few days with outrage by frustrated voters who feel Arizona’s upcoming highly publicized gubernatorial debate is leaving out several key candidates who qualify for the November ballot.

Libertarian candidate for Governor Barry Hess had this to say on his campaign facebook page:

“There are lots of sham events being set up specifically to deny YOU the opportunity to see/hear ALL of your choices for political office. That’s sorta like listening to the Kentucky Derby, but the announcer never mentions the other horses in the race. That’s just stupid! Who wants to see less than the whole field of candidates (there are 10 ballot-qualified candidates)? The leader of this group (Darcey something–602-496-0294) said that they “only wanted to focus on the two major parties”–what’s that tell ya? This group is promoting more of the same kind of people that put Arizona into a tailspin.

Einstein said, “You cannot possibly solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it”. The ONLY candidates who will stand up for YOU, are outside the Republican-Democrat scam…

This is what a sham election cycle “Forum” looks like…tell your friends, and ask Darcey to tell you why she thinks only the candidates she wants you to see count…

Looking into this issue further I have found that the event organizers seem to have crossed a fine political line and are breaking the law by not inviting the third party candidates. Here is the issue:

This debate is being organized by The Center for the Future of Arizona, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. From their website:

“Established in 2002, the Phoenix-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is governed by a distinguished board of directors. It is privately funded through individual, foundation, corporate and community contributions.”

As a 501(c)(3) this organization is held to a much higher standard than other organizations when it comes to political debates and other events. Guidelines published by Venable Law Firm clearly explain how 501(c)(3) organizers must “Provide an equal opportunity to all candidates seeking election to the same office to speak or be a part of the debate.

While they are allowed to establish objective criteria to limit participants, they CANNOT keep people out of the debate who will be on the November ballot. This includes Libertarian candidate Barry Hess and Independent candidate John Mealer who have both qualified for the November ballot. From Venable Law Firm:

“Candidate Appearances and Debates 501(c)(3) organizations may sponsor nonpartisan and unbiased candidate debates and appearances. To minimize risk of violating the ban on political campaign intervention in connection with such events, the following guidelines should be followed:

Do not indicate support for or opposition to any candidate, explicitly or through biased presentation of topics or questions; Questions and topics should cover most major issues of interest to the entire electorate; Do not allow political fundraising to take place at the event; and Provide an equal opportunity to all candidates seeking election to the same office to speak or be a part of the debate. The organization may establish reasonable, objective criteria to limit the number of participants (such as a polling threshold or qualification to be on a ballot).

Also, even someone who is a candidate may address a 501(c)(3) if the address is unrelated to his or her candidacy. For example, a sitting official may be asked to speak in an official capacity, or an expert on a particular topic may be asked  to present to the organization. However, the candidacy and the election may not be mentioned by the speaker or by the organization.”

Failing to comply with these rules could mean that organizers will lose their nonprofit status.

You can find more information from the IRS here:


While I’m not an expert, it appears to me that the Center for the Future of Arizona is breaking the law by not inviting third party and independent candidates to this debate. I would encourage the affected candidates to look into this issue further and pursue legal action if deemed appropriate.


Debate flyer (click to enlarge).

UPDATE: Barry Hess just posted the following on his Facebook page:

I just received a call from Darcey Renfro. She was very polite and accommodating and she invited me to participate in Friday’s forum. They were able to extend their time allotment to add candidates who were previously excluded. I assured her that she was doing the right thing, and accepted her invitation.

I am pretty sure that Darcey’s change-of-heart had something to do with the contact she had from many of my supporters, so Arizona owes YOU a great big “Thank You! For helping to keep our elections honest. (You know who you are!)”

  1. barry hess
    June 4, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Great commentary, Elisha!

  2. Scott Lemoine
    June 4, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I don’t see how they would be breaking the law by not inviting them but if the official candidates show up and are denied access to join the forum, that would be a different story. I see the guest registration is already closed. Are these potential ‘shunned’ candidates planning to organize some kind of protest outside the event, or prior to is starting? It’s 3 days from now.

    • June 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      I think Hess and Mealer both plan on attending and protesting the event. What violates IRS law is that both candidates have asked to be included in the forum and both were told they were not allowed to be there.

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