A committee whose goal is to return a robust GOP majority to the state Senate has taken sides in a Republican primary, spending money to help Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, beat Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction.
The Republican Victory Fund recently sent out a mailer touting Crandall’s record, including his vote to pass SB1070.
As expected, Fillmore is dismayed by the committee’s action.
In a lengthy email, the Apache Junction Republican strongly implied that Senate President Steve Pierce is deploying the committee’s resources to help him get votes to remain as Senate President.
Pierce has been raising money for the committee.
“I wonder if all of the donors that gave money to further the election of Republicans for the Senate and House would be happy if they knew the money was instead diverted into what seems to be a ‘votes for leadership’ slush fund and used against another Republican?” Fillmore said.
The Republican Victory Fund, which was formed in 2011 but has had different incarnations in the past, reported raising $168,000 in the first five months of this year.
Its primary goal is to extend Republicans’ dominance in the state Legislature. It’s now clear that goal also includes preferring some candidates in intra-party contests.
Camilla Strongin, the group’s chairman and a consultant to Pierce, refused to respond to Fillmore’s insinuation.
But she said her group looked at Crandall’s record, particularly his work on education, and listened to contributors in deciding to engage in an intraparty contest.
“If you looked at his voting record, if you looked at his stance on education, he’s certainly much more conservative than I think the opposition would like to portray him,” Strongin said, referring to Crandall.
“He’s currently sitting as a senator and our goal is to return a very robust Republican Senate,” Strongin said.
Fillmore, who has Tea Party leanings, is portraying himself as more conservative than Crandall.
It is not extraordinary for the GOP committee and its previous incarnations to take sides in a Republican intramural, but the move is likely to spark some controversy. The state and county Republican parties have done the same in the past.
But it also sets up a potentially awkward situation for Pierce and Fillmore — if the latter won his race against Crandall.
Fillmore said what “prompted his angst” is the explanation given by Pierce and House Speaker Andy Tobin.
Fillmore noted that among the top donors listed in the pro-Crandall mailer was the Republican House Victory, which is raising money to help extend the GOP’s dominance in the House.
He said House Speaker Andy Tobin explained to him the two committees raised money together and then split the funds. The transfer of money is reflected as a contribution by the House majority’s independent expenditure committee—hence the reason it’s listed as a top contributor to the Republican Victory Fund.
While Fillmore let Tobin’s explanation go, he couldn’t do the same for Pierce’s. Fillmore said Pierce essentially told him he has no control over the group’s spending.
“The president said, ‘Look, that’s an IE (independent expenditure group) that I raised money for and I’m not even allowed to know anything about it’,” Fillmore said.
“He’s raising (the money). He knows. They have access to what’s happening with that, to my knowledge. I mean that’s my understanding of it. So I just kind of said, you know, this is all kind of chicken$#@!” he added.
Reached on the phone, Pierce acknowledged he has been raising money for the committee but he has no say in where the money is spent.
“There’s no ‘slush fund’,” he said, reiterating he has no control over the independent group’s spending and it would be unlawful for him to have any say in it. Technically, the law only says an independent expenditure committee must not coordinate with a candidate in a race the committee is engaged in.
When pressed if he’s comfortable that the money he is raising is being spent in a Republican primary, Pierce answered, “Even if I said I don’t like it, it doesn’t matter. It’s the committee (that) gets to spend the money where they see fit.”
Also in response to Fillmore’s insinuation, Crandall told the Arizona Capitol Times that he supported Pierce to become Senate President last year and “it stands to reason that I would support him again whether his IE spends money on me or not.”
Crandall also said while Pierce has no say in the committee’s spending priorities, the group’s contributors do.
“Gratefully, they are choosing me over Fillmore,” he said.