The Arizona Diamondbacks are thrusting themselves into the immigration spotlight, despite the team’s repeated efforts to stay out of the fervor involving the state’s new law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants.
A high-profile fundraiser for congressional hopeful Jonathan Paton at Chase Field May 20 had Democrats and immigration activists upset over what they see as hypocrisy by the team’s top brass.
Their beef: As a state senator, Paton supported S1070 and is being touted by D-Backs owner and generous GOP contributor Ken Kendrick as “a rising star in the Republican Party” as he seeks to unseat Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District.
The Diamondbacks have desperately tried to distance themselves from the vitriol surrounding the immigration debate, saying that calls to boycott the team – and a movement to sway Major League Baseball to move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona – are misguided.
“The fact is that while Kendrick publicly distances himself from the bill, he is using the home of the supposedly ‘apolitical’ Diamondbacks organization as a fundraising center for SB 1070 supporting politicians,” a group called Puente Arizona said in a press release May 20. A protest is planned at the entrance to the ballpark.
The fundraiser was largely organized by House Speaker Kirk Adams and Kendrick, though Adams did most of the work, said Paton’s campaign spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.
The soiree occupied two suites at Chase Field for the match-up between the Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants.
The attention by activists, Democrats and a few media outlets who picked up the story have actually bolstered interest in the $1,000-per-attendee, $4,800-per-co-hosted fundraiser.
The campaign expected as many as 70 people to attend, and had to rent a second suite to accommodate the crowd.
“The Democrats have tried to use this as mechanism to damage (Paton) in the election,” Scarpinato said. “Fortunately for us, it’s resulted in a huge surge of interest and made this our most successful fundraiser to date.”
The campaign even went as far as naming Pima County Democratic Party Chair Jeff Rogers in the “volunteer spotlight” on Paton’s website for inadvertently drumming up interest for the fundraiser.
Rogers shrugged that off as comical.
He didn’t take direct aim at the Diamondbacks, but Rogers said the team is being dragged into the fight because of Kendrick’s ties to Republicans.
“It’s unfortunate that (the Diamondbacks) got dragged into all of this. It probably has a lot to do with Kendrick being such a large Republican contributor,” Rogers said. “It would seem more enjoyable if baseball would steer clear of politics.”
The Diamondbacks are downplayed the event.
“Kendrick only began supporting Mr. Paton after his announcement to run for Congress and has never contributed to any politicians currently serving in the state Legislature,” a team statement issued by spokesman Shaun Rachau said. “He stands by his statement that he opposes Senate Bill 1070 and would like for the federal government to address the issue of illegal immigration.”
So why host a political fundraiser for an aspiring politician who voted for the immigration law?
Rachau said Kendrick paid his $4,800 to co-host the event and that’s the extent of it. In fact, he wasn’t even scheduled to be there due to a prior family commitment, he said.
A fundraising letter, co-authored by Adams and Kendrick, shows Kendrick was a little more involved, however.
The two-page letter touts Paton’s conservative credentials and says, in part, “The only thing Jonathan needs to win this race is money, which is why we need your help.”
If 70 people really did show up, it appears Paton will, indeed, get plenty of money.
Paton is facing challenger Jesse Kelly in the Republican primary election Aug. 24