Following The Money: Democrats Spend Big in Southern Arizona Legislative Races

A Democratic mailer targeting Republican Frank Antenori sponsored by Victory 2008; Antenori charges that Democrats "made complete fabrications."

We’ve mentioned recently in The Skinny (here and here) how the Arizona Democratic Party is making a big push to flip the Arizona House of Representatives. To do it, they need to flip four seats into the Democratic column while hanging onto the gains they made in 2008.

That’s no easy task, but the Democrats are never likely to find themselves in a more advantageous political environment. And they certainly have the financial resources to make it happen, although we’ll have to wait until Election Day to see if they ended up spending all their money in an effective manner.

The Democratic Party has invested a half-million dollars into Victory 2008, a political committee pushing for Democrats in GOP districts across the state. They’re being backed up by Arizonans for a Healthy Economy, a political committee that, according to the most recent campaign finance reports, had been funded by the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education ($50K), the Arizona Fire Fighters ($50K), the SEIU labor guys ($50K), and Arizona’s List, a political committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women ($37K). Arizonans for a Healthy Economy also picked up a bunch of contributions from Tucson-area lefties.

Here in Southern Arizona, the Democrats have targeted Districts 25, 26 and 30 with more than $300,000 in campaign spending. They should get an easy pick-up in LD25, where Republican Rep. Jennifer Burns is retiring. The district leans Democratic and the Republican candidates are not especially credible; one of them, David Stevens, isn’t even in the country to campaign.

In GOP-leaning District 26 (Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley, Saddlebrooke), the Democrats have to protect Rep. Nancy Young Wright and carry Don Jorgensen to victory against Republicans Vic Williams and Marilyn Zerull. They also want to keep the state Senate seat in Democratic hands by supporting Cheryl Cage against Republican Al Melvin.

In LD26, the Democratic committees have combined to spend Continue reading

But Bruce: We Thought You Opposed Earmarks!

We mentioned in an earlier post about how the Arizona Republican Party was facing tough financial times because they had to return $105,000 in contributions from a group called SCA, which wouldn’t reveal its contributors to the AZ GOP.

That refund came after the party had spent a bundle on TV ads trashing Dan Saban, the opponent of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The decision to spend money on the Arpaio race when he’s not even in danger of losing had some Republicans wondering why the money wasn’t spent on GOP legislative races, given that Democrats are spending a bundle in a bid to take control of the Arizona House of Representatives.

Bruce Ash, the local property manager who serves as the Republican national committeeman from Arizona, came to the defense of the Arizona Republican Party by announcing to the world–via a comment of GOP political consultant Nathan Sproul’s blog–that the GOP wouldn’t have gotten the SCA contribution unless it had agreed to run the ad.

“The Saban ad campaign was not done using ANY funds from AZGOP which were donated for any other cause other than the specific campaign and would not have been donated had the ad campaign not been run,” Ash said.

The problem: That sort of earmarking is usually considered, um, illegal.

Ash, who didn’t return our phone call, might want to check with his lawyers before making any more blog posts. We think they usually caution clients to stick with some some sort plausible deniability rather than blabbing about the backroom deals that get struck.

Bee’s Latest Financial Report: $185K

Republican Tim Bee has turned in his latest financial reports with the FEC. The numbers show him once again trailing Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Bee reports raising $185,183 in the most recent period, which ended Sept. 30. That brings his total haul for the campaign to $1,426,833—or less than half of the $3 million that Giffords has raised.

Bee has spent $1,360,646 on the campaign to date, according to the report.

As noted earlier today, Giffords raised more than $330,000 in the most recent period, which puts her over the $3 million mark for the entire campaign. She has spent more than $2.4 million.

We’ll have a complete report on tonight’s Giffords-Bee debate tomorrow. Spoiler warning: It was no game-changer, although Bee’s support for teaching creationism in science courses came as a surprise to us.

The Final Debate: Giffords Meets Bee Tonight! Plus: Giffords Campaign Surpasses the $3 Million Mark While DCCC Pulls Out of CD8

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords faces Republican challenger Tim Bee tonight in the last scheduled debate of the Congressional District 8 race. We’re not sure how it got scheduled on the same night as the presidential debate, but you can see the throwdown at 7:30 p.m. at Flowing Wells High School, 3725 N. Flowing Wells Road.

Speaking of the CD8 race: We hear the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is pulling out of the CD8 air war. Last week, the DCCC aired its most brutal hit against Bee yet, leading Giffords to say that she’d like the committee to yank the ad. The DCCC, which had reserved roughly $700K in advertising time, is now canceling what it can, although it will be running an ad accusing Bee of having a big ol’ crush on President George W. Bush on at least one station that wouldn’t let the committee out of its contract.

Maybe DCCC officials’ feelings were hurt by Giffords’ request that they pull the ad, but we imagine it has more to do with polling that shows Giffords is far enough ahead that they can safely spend their money elsewhere.

More good news for Giffords: Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Report has upgraded the CD8 race from “leans Democrat” to “Democrat favored.”

Finally, new campaign finance reports are due today. Giffords has reported that she raised more than $330,000 in the most recent period, which puts her over the $3 million mark for the entire campaign. She has spent more than $2.4 million.

Bee has not yet filed for this period.

The After Math: Crunching Numbers in Last Week’s Primary

GOP champ: Al Melvin

Questions and answers in the wake of last week’s primary election:

What was the big takeaway in the legislative races?

Conservatives ruled. In almost every local race in GOP districts, the most conservative candidates carried the day.

In the GOP primary for the Legislative District 26 Senate seat, Republican Al Melvin beat state Rep. Pete Hershberger by exposing his liberal leanings, just as Melvin beat incumbent Toni Hellon two years ago. Melvin captured 10,131 votes compared to Hershberger’s 8,857 in the district which runs from SaddleBrooke down through Oro Valley and across the Catalina Foothills.

Now comes the big test for Melvin: Can he win a general election? Melvin has sanded down many of his rough edges, but he’s facing a savvy Democrat in Cheryl Cage, who managed a Democratic campaign that was able to overcome the GOP voter advantage in the 2006 District 26 House race. On top of that, the political mood still doesn’t favor Continue reading

Match Game: Judge Rules Against Portion of Clean Elections Program

Opponents of Arizona’s Clean Elections system won a big round in court last week when federal Judge Roslyn Silver said that the campaign-finance program’s matching-funds provision could be unconstitutional.

In a case brought by the Goldwater Institute on behalf of various GOP candidates, Silver didn’t rule against the Clean Elections system itself, which provides qualifying candidates for state office with campaign dollars.

But Silver said the Goldwater Institute folks have a point when they say that giving some candidates more money if their privately funded opponents break certain spending limits could violate the First Amendment.

For example, most candidates for the Arizona Legislature get $12,921 if they can collect 220 $5 contributions for residents of their district. But if a traditionally funded candidate spends more money than that, then Clean Election gives participating candidates a dollar-for-dollar match. The match tops out at three times the original Clean Elections funding for the campaign.

That leads to some privately funded candidates getting hosed. We’ve reported in recent week on the twists in the four-way GOP primary in Legislative District 30, which pitted two Clean Elections candidates, Sharon Collins and David Gowan, against two candidates who were raising money from private contributors—Doug Sposito and Frank Antenori.

By raising a respectable amount of money and lending his campaign $12,000, Sposito was able to spend Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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