PHOENIX -- The Republican Party in John McCain's home state is fracturing under the weight of a series of misconduct charges that threaten to sink the party's already deeply troubled Arizona candidacies. The GOP problems here, which include infighting and ideological splits, underline arguments made nationally in the final weeks of the presidential campaign that the Republican party is in crisis.
Asked for comment at a fundraiser last week, a Republican consultant here simply said that the state GOP is in "desperate straits."
At the top of the list, perhaps, is news that the party is being forced to return $105,000 to an unidentified group originally reported only as "SCA" and which increasingly appears to be linked to GOP candidate Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Party insiders are also now publicly feuding with one another, some vowing to unseat the state party chair after the election season. Local television stations, meantime, are refusing to air at least one state GOP ad and perhaps two for stretching the facts even beyond the standards that presently govern election campaign TV ads. As if these problems weren't enough, Democratic Party officials are asking incumbent GOP Rep. John Shadegg embarrassing questions concerning election-season espionage after a credit card belonging to Shadegg's campaign manager was found under a desk in the offices of the Arizona Democratic Party headquarters.
Last tuesday Democratic Party Executive Director Maria Weeg filed complaints with the Arizona Secretary of State and the Maricopa County Recorder requesting the swift and formal investigation of the Arizona Republican Party, one of its affiliated committees Arizonans for Public Safety, and the a contributor known at the time only as "SCA." It has since been reported that the acronym stands for "Sheriff's Command Association."
Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen says he accepted the funds from SCA (two donations, $80,000 and $25,000) under the assumption that SCA would provide him with the names and information of donors, but those names haven't been delivered. Arizona Democrats are accusing the GOP of using SCA to funnel donations to candidates while hiding the identity of the donors, a felony violation of campaign finance laws.
In addition, the Arizona Democratic Party alleges that SCA violated the law by failing to register as a political organization and failing to report its financial activities to the Arizona Secretary of State or the Maricopa County Recorder.
Pullen apparently also told the Arizona Capital Times that the SCA money was "set aside for county races" despite an Arizona statute that prohibits political entities from accepting earmarked contributions. Although the Arizona Republican Party only reported a $100 payment to Arizonans for Public Safety, Pullen also told the Arizona Capital Times that it transferred $78,000 of the SCA funds to Arizonans for Public Safety, which is also headed by Pullen, for county races.
The East Valley Tribune uncovered the identity of the person behind SCA, Division Captain Joel Fox of Sheriff Arpaio's Maricopa County office. Fox is listed as the contact person for SCA. Because Sheriff Arpaio's campaign could not legally collaborate with the ads run by Arizonans for Public Safety, this connection has further raised suspicions of illegal campaign activity. Sheriff Arpaio has emphatically denied any knowledge or collaboration with the group and the ad buy, calling it an "independent expenditure."
Despite the large amount of the donations and the high profile identity of Captain Fox, Pullen says that he "never even talked to [Fox] before I got the check. I didn't know him from Adam." Pullen says that he was unaware that Fox is a ranking member of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Although the Arizona Republican Party now says it will return all $105,000 of the SCA donations, Secretary of State Jan Brewer is asking the Arizona Republican Party for a formal response to the complaint, along with a list of the SCA donors by October 31. The Arizona Elections Office has referred the case to a local law firm. The Arizona Democratic Party is asking the Arizona Secretary of State and the Maricopa County Recorder to fine the GOP the requisite three times the amount of the funds received.
The bad press and possible financial set-back comes when the state party has already been suffering from long-term infighting and diminishing enthusiasm. According to the Democratic Party, the latest reports show the Arizona GOP with only $73,000 on hand in non-federal money, and the SCA donations were already being used to fund controversial television advertisements. One of those ads was the one "pulled" by the party after a local station refused to air it and another station questioned the ad's assertions.
Pullen said the ad was pulled after further research showed that the ad "wasn't quite accurate."
Republican party membership has also declined dramatically in Arizona over the last few years, with most defectors re-registering without party affiliation.
Republican consultant and former state Senator Stan Barnes says it is the my-way-or-the-highway attitude that is driving away Republican supporters. Others say it is the lack of an adherence to Republican principles. Pullen, a long time immigration-control activist, for example, took over the state party last year and has made it his goal to return the state party to its core principles.
Infighting within McCain's home-state party has been cut throat. Many party leaders, office holders, and key supporters have divided themselves into factions based on ideology and specific issues such as immigration, with party leaders calling other party leaders out. Indeed, much of the party infighting has centered around the issue of immigration, and many party members have cited John McCain's immigration policy as a primary reason for leaving the party. Barnes also notes that McCain is "reviled" by many in the Arizona Republican Party leadership.
The party has been in a civil war for the last few years, with a conservative grassroots arm pitted against libertarian-leaning Republicans, and Pullen has been at the center of the controversy as a conservative stalwart. Last year, some party leaders even voiced concern that Pullen would sabotage McCain's chances in the presidential election due to longstanding political differences on immigration and other conservative issues.
And just Monday evening, news broke that the Arizona Democratic Party found a credit card belonging to an Arizona Republican operative under a desk in the state headquarters of the Democratic Party.
The credit card was issued to Ryan Anderson, the re-election campaign manager of Republican Representative John Shadegg. Anderson claims that he went into the Democratic Party office to purchase an Obama bumper sticker. However, because all merchandise purchases are legally considered to be donations, a signed donation form is required each time an item is purchased.
No record exists of Ryan Anderson's purchase, but a "Bryan Anderson" whose address is a "near match" did fill out a donation form. According to the Democratic Party, each number in the street address is one digit off. Nevertheless, the Shadegg campaign sent an email to PolitickerAZ claiming that Anderson gave the card to a volunteer who stopped by the Democratic office to buy an Obama sticker.
Democratic Party officials believe that Anderson was the one who came to the office and that he purposely lied about his identity in order to access their office for information about the Bob Lord campaign for Shadegg's Congressional seat. Emily DeRose, spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party said,
Why would Anderson need to lie if he was just there to buy a bumper sticker? Why would a Republican campaign operative go to a Democratic office to buy bumper stickers when they're online? This story just doesn't hold water.
Arizona Democrats are asking Shadegg to fire Anderson.
As I was finishing this article, I received a robocall from Pullen asking for volunteers to help with phonebanking at the Arizona Republican Party headquarters. It smacks of desperation when the home state party of a presidential nominee is forced to robocall potential volunteers.