PHOENIX -- Saying he has concerns about abuse, Attorney General Mark Brnovich late Thursday yanked his formal legal opinion which said public officials can use their offices and resources to "educate'' voters on an upcoming ballot measure.
In a prepared statement, press aide Kristen Keogh said there were "allegations'' that his opinion, issued less than two weeks ago "may have provided an opportunity for potential government abuse.'' And she said he takes that issue "very seriously.''
Communications chief Ryan Anderson said the next step is to review the issue and issue a revision that is not only "more clear'' but also ensures that the opinion, which can be cited in court cases, is not used in a way that does not protect taxpayer dollars.
Thursday's action most immediately does away with Brnovich's conclusion that laws which prohibit the use of public funds to influence the outcome of elections do not prevent tax dollars from being used for even one-sided education campaigns. He said the only time a politician crosses the line is if the campaign would "unambiguously urge the electorate to cast a vote for or against the measure.''
Keogh was answering a question from Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, a foe of a ballot measure which would legalize marijuana. She wanted permission to tell people, while on public time, she opposes the initiative and why.
Keogh said Brnovich looked at the question in a way to "preserve the First Amendment right of elected officials.'' And she said her boss believes in their "right to free speech.''
But Anderson conceded the opinion drew criticism from several sources.
Goldwater Institute attorney Christina Sandefur told Capitol Media Services that it failed to recognize changes in law approved just two years ago by the Legislature.
For example, she said one statute allows public resources to be used only in an "impartial or neutral manner'' to inform voters on public issues. And she said even that spending is limited to "neutral government-sponsored debates or forums, or election publicity pamphlets.''
Anderson said there was also a wave of news stories about whether Brnovich was giving Polk and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery the green light to use their official position -- and their office's resources -- to make the push to kill the initiative.
"We're not swayed by media opinion,'' Anderson said. "But at a certain point, when you hear from folks ... you start to look introspectively and say, 'Is this the case?' ''
Anderson had no set date for when a revised opinion will be issued. But he said that, since most of the research already had been done, he would expect it fairly soon.