A Prescott mayoral candidate filed a defamation suit Thursday against well-known political consultant Max Fose, his consulting firm and a “dark money” group he operates.

Mary Beth Hrin, in a Yavapai County Superior Court suit, alleged Fose is behind a negative campaign that is trying to prevent her from having a fair and honest opportunity to be elected mayor.

At issue are two campaign mailers recently sent to Prescott voters ahead of the Aug. 29 mail-in election in which Hrin is vying with Greg Mengarelli and Jean Wilcox for Mayor Harry Oberg’s job. The mailers accuse Hrin of fleecing and stiffing Arizona taxpayers. 

Hrin’s suit alleges the fliers were “false, intentionally harmful” and contained “misleading defamatory material.”

Hrin said the fliers took a medical-bill lien and an insurance claim of hers out of context by lifting language from public documents that put her in a false light. 

Chris Jensen, Hrin’s attorney, said the lien was filed against another party and that Hrin won the insurance claim more than a decade ago.

“It’s so ugly here,” Hrin said in a phone interview. “I’m afraid to leave my house. … You don’t expect if you run for office that people will do this to you.”

‘Favorable news coverage’ or a fight for fairness?

The Arizona Voter Education Project disclosed on the fliers that it paid for the mailers, and it listed a phone number. That number is for an employee at Integrated Web Strategy or IWS, Fose’s consulting firm. Public records show the address listed for the non-profit organization is the same as IWS in Phoenix.

The suit was filed against Fose, his wife, Shannon, The Arizona Voter Education Project and IWS.

Efforts to reach Fose at his firm’s offices in Phoenix and Washington, D.C., were unsuccessful.

Kory Langhofer, Fose’s attorney, called Hrin’s suit frivolous, saying she was trying to get favorable news coverage prior to the election.

Langhofer defended the fliers, saying Prescott voters have a right to know about a candidate based on public records. He said he did not know who funded the ads. 

The Arizona Voter Education Project is considered a dark-money group because it does not have to disclose its donors. Such groups in recent years have become prevalent in local and statewide elections. They are popular because donors can secretly give unlimited sums of money to the non-profit groups, which then can attack candidate campaigns with little or no clear information on who is behind them.

Guidestar, an online clearinghouse for 2.5 million non-profit organizations, said the Arizona Voter Education Project lost its federal tax exemption from the Internal Revenue Service because it failed to publicly release its tax-return forms as required by law. Guidestar warns that “further investigation and due diligence” are warranted for the non-profit.

Langhofer said he was unaware of Guidestar’s claims regarding Arizona Voter Education Project’s non-profit status.

Fose is well known in Arizona political circles and is a board member of the Phoenix Symphony. He also has served on the boards of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona, Esperanza and All Saints’ Episcopal Day School, according to his company’s website.

Fose’s IWS has worked with political candidates ranging from U.S. Sen. John McCain to former Gov. Jan Brewer. It also has represented Arizona State University, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to its website.

Hrin said she believes she’s being targeted because she has been outspoken and critical of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System at legislative meetings being held around the state by Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. 

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Hrin has questioned the amount of benefits paid to some public-safety retirees, as well as the performance of the trust’s management and board.

However, because the fliers came from a dark-money group, there is no way to determine who paid for them.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or (602) 444-8478 or @charrisazrep on Twitter.


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