Election officials are investigating a television ad by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s re-election campaign that targets interim Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley. The ad urges voters to re-elect Arpaio, who isn’t up for re-election until 2012, while criticizing Romley.
An attorney for Romley alleges the ad violates campaign law because Arpaio and Romley are not running against each other and because the ad may benefit Romley’s opponent Bill Montgomery. Arpaio has endorsed Montgomery.
“It’s clever, but it’s patently obvious that this was done to support Bill Montgomery,” said Romley’s attorney Michael Manning.
Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne told The Arizona Republic the issue is whether the ad is an “independent expenditure.”
State statute defines independent expenditure as payment or distribution or gift by anyone other than a candidate’s campaign committee that advocates the election or defeat of a “clearly identified candidate.”
“The campaign ad is quite obviously against a candidate who is not in the race against the sheriff,” Osborne said.
Osborne added it would be difficult to determine which candidate is the beneficiary.
The television ad says special interest groups and politicians like Romley oppose Arpaio’s policies on enforcing illegal-immigration laws and desperately want the sheriff out of office.
An attorney for Arpaio’s campaign said the ad is an expression of Arpaio’s freedom of speech.
“The ad is 100 percent legal,” said Phoenix attorney Tim Casey. “In addition, Arpaio has First Amendment rights both as a private citizen and as a candidate.”
Montgomery said he didn’t know anything about the ad until he received a phone call when it first aired.
“That was an ad that Joe Arpaio ran,” Montgomery said. “I had nothing to do with it.”
Arpaio told The Associated Press this week he is just repeating what Romley’s philosophy is.
“I’m not running against Romley. I’m running for sheriff in 2012,” Arpaio said. “I want everyone, especially those who don’t like me, I want them to know I’m running again.”
If it’s determined the Arpaio re-election ad violated state law, it could be removed from the air and a fine could be levied against Arpaio’s campaign.