Curious George: What’s Up With Sam What’s-His-Name?

Looks like we’re not the only ones having trouble catching up with Democratic Corporation Commissioner Sam George–or, as we call him around the Watchtower, Sam Vajayjay.

George, a political strategist who made a bundle from working on initiative campaigns in the 1990s back when his real name was Sam Vagenas, also dodged Sarah Fenske at the Phoenix New Times.

But Fenske still did nice job of exposing Vajayjay’s Clean Elections scam a few weeks back. As she explains it:

George approached a Flagstaff city councilwoman, Kara Kelty, who’d told state Democratic Party leaders that she was interested in running for the corporation commission. George said he was planning to invest $350,000 of his own money into the campaign and asked if she would want to run as part of his “team,” as Kelty confirms.

He wasn’t just offering camaraderie.

In debates, George will tell you that he helped to write and pass the Clean Elections law. Surely he knows how he’d be fleecing the Clean Elections system by spending so much money in an uncontested primary.

Clean Elections candidates usually would get just $82,000 in public financing for the primary. But if a self-funded candidate like George pours money into the primary race, the Clean Elections Commission must match the amount — up to $246,000 — for his opponents.

By running on a ticket with a rich, self-funded candidate, Kelty would get the benefit of running as a team, plus a giant cash infusion. Ostensibly, the money would equalize the playing field in the primary. But because George and Kelty would be running as a team, in reality, the cash would boost her name recognition for the general election. And probably his, too.

Thanks to George’s willingness to spend, two Democratic candidates could ultimately enjoy twice the funding of their Republican rivals — courtesy of public money.

Kind of fishy, eh? But the Clean Elections Commission tells me it’s totally legal.

“That’s not a problem at all,” says Mike Becker, the commission’s voter-education manager. “The only stipulation that exists is that each candidate has to write a check directly to their vendors” — even if they’re collaborating on advertising.

That sounds crazy to me. I don’t care that it’s legal. It completely violates the spirit of the law. (Or, at least, what we thought was the spirit. Considering that Vagenas/George helped to write the thing, who knows whether these loopholes were intentional?!)

Kelty, to her credit, didn’t bite. She tells me that she declined George’s offer to run as a team because she was concerned about mixing Clean Elections funding with a privately funded candidate.

So George went out and formed a team with two candidates: Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman. Both former state legislators, he’s now a county supervisor in Cochise County. And though they’re likable, their biggest plus may be names that would look fabulous on a road sign.

There’s more to the story; check it out. We think you’ll realize why nobody should be supporting such a sleazy weasel.


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