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Group raises $22,000 to oppose Pearce

Senate President Russell Pearce says he spoke with LDS church leaders in Salt Lake City who told him the organization “absolutely” does not oppose his approach to dealing with illegal immigration. Some members of the faith, however, see the situation quite differently. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

A group whose parent organization spearheaded the ouster of Russell Pearce from the Capitol last year has spent roughly $22,000 so far to help ensure he doesn’t return to the Legislature.

Moving Mesa Forward, an independent expenditure group, has been reaching out to Republicans and independents in the new Legislative District 25 to persuade them to vote against Pearce, the author of Senate Bill 1070 who lost in a recall election last November.

Pearce faces Bob Worsley, a businessman, in the Republican primary. The race is one of the most watched legislative contests this year.

The independent expenditure group’s parent organization, Citizens for a Better Arizona, led the successful drive to recall Pearce in 2011 and also actively campaigned to defeat him in the special election later that year, when he lost to now-Sen. Jerry Lewis, a fellow Republican from Mesa.

Randy Parraz, who is leading the independent expenditure committee, said his group is trying to contrast Worsley’s record with Pearce’s.

The group is rehashing some of the criticisms that were hurled at Pearce during the recall election.

“We’re leaving door-hangers that show, on the one side, who’s supporting Bob Worsley and what he’s about versus Russell Pearce, from the Fiesta Bowl scandal to the sham candidacy of Olivia Cortes to his attempt to get a check from the state,” Parraz said.

The group has also been encouraging voters to fill out and return their early ballots, Parraz said.

The activist said Citizens for a Better Arizona worked hard to oust Pearce last year and it can’t afford to stay on the sidelines while Pearce attempts a comeback.

“We had too much invested to sit back and just watch that,” Parraz told the Arizona Capitol Times.

Pearce was among several lawmakers who were investigated for their involvement in the Fiesta Bowl scandal, where public officials received free trips and tickets to games.

The investigation showed he received more than $39,000 in airfare, hotel, food and game tickets from the Fiesta Bowl organization.

Pearce reimbursed the organization for a fraction of that amount. At one point, he also released documents that he said show a “clear pattern of compliance” with state laws.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who investigated the controversy, concluded that while the public officials “screwed up,” he can’t prove whether they “knowingly” failed to disclose the free trips and game tickets because of confusing and conflicting lobbying statutes.

Consequently, the public officials avoided criminal charges.

During the recall campaign last year, Pearce’s critics went to court to question the candidacy of Olivia Cortes, whom a judge concluded was recruited by Pearce’s allies to try and siphon off votes from Lewis.

The judge, however, said he couldn’t kick off her the ballot, explaining it is not the court’s job to “examine and be the final arbiter of the motives political candidates may have.”

Cortes later voluntarily withdrew from the race, but she and her lawyer vigorously defended her right to throw her hat in the ring. Her lawyer also said the lawsuit was politically motivated and it sought to achieve nothing but to defame Cortes, adding that removing a candidate from the ballot would chill political speech.

Pearce maintained he had nothing to do with Cortes’s candidacy, and called the lawsuit against her a “sham.”

This year, Pearce’s allies sought unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would have created the legal framework for reimbursing officials who faced recall elections.

The framework could have paved the way for Pearce to get a reimbursement of more than $260,000 from the state — the amount his campaign spent defending him during the recall election.

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