An attorney for the Republican Victory Fund, an independent expenditure committee created by Senate President Steve Pierce, gave Sen. Frank Antenori a sharp rebuke for allegedly asking Pierce for help with his race, a violation of state laws prohibiting coordination between campaigns and independent expenditures.
Michael Liburdi, who is representing the Republican Victory Fund, said Antenori left Pierce a voicemail about a week ago asking that the committee make expenditures in the Legislative District 10 Senate race, where the fiery Tucson Republican faces a tough race against former Democratic Rep. David Bradley.
In a letter Thursday, Liburdi warned Antenori that such coordination is illegal. He also told Antenori that, by asking Pierce for money, he barred the Senate president from actually spending money to help him in LD10.
“Your voice mails (sic) to President Pierce have now, as a matter of law, completely foreclosed any possibility that RVF would even consider such an expenditure,” Liburdi wrote.
Antenori, however, said he never asked for help from the Republican Victory Fund. He said he only asked Pierce for help in a general sense as a sign of GOP unity, and never once mentioned the independent expenditure committee. He said he also called House Speaker Andy Tobin and asked for general help as well.
“I called Steve Pierce as a gesture to Steve,” Antenori said. “All I did was say, ‘I need help.’ And I didn’t even say I need help from the (Republican) Victory Fund. I said, ‘Hey, I need help. Can you help me? As the Senate president, I need help.’”
Antenori has been targeted by several independent expenditure groups that are working to elect Democratic candidates. As of Thursday, those groups had reported spending more than $187,000 to defeat him.
So far, the only outside spending on his behalf is $802 from Americans for Responsible Leadership, a group that has drawn scrutiny from California courts for giving $11 million to a committee there that was then used in the campaigns for two ballot measures in that state.
Antenori, a former Green Beret special forces soldier with a penchant for being blunt, accused Pierce of steering Republican Victory Fund money away from candidates who don’t support his re-election as Senate president. Antenori is supporting Sen. Andy Biggs’ bid for the Senate presidency.
“It is a veiled and futile and weak and pathetic attempt to make an excuse for making sure that three Republicans that would not have voted for him for Senate president do not get elected to the Senate,” Antenori said of the letter.
Pierce, R-Prescott, has faced similar criticism for not helping Legislative District 8 Senate candidate Joe Ortiz and Legislative District 9 Senate candidate Tyler Mott, as well as for spending heavily in the Legislative District 16 GOP primary to help Sen. Rich Crandall defeat fellow Republican Rep. John Fillmore.
Antenori also said Liburdi’s letter was meant to give Pierce an excuse for not spending money to help fellow Republicans who don’t support him. Antenori said the letter was timed to shield Pierce from criticism at a Thursday evening meeting of the Maricopa County Republican Party’s executive committee, which was scheduled to vote on a resolution backing Biggs for the Senate presidency and backing Sen. Steve Smith, who is running for the House in Legislative District 11, for the House speakership.
The Pinal County Republican Party recently approved a resolution backing Biggs and Smith, as well.
Many political observers expect Antenori to lose in the Democratic-leaning LD10, which covers eastern and part of central Tucson.
Liburdi would not comment exactly what Antenori said to Pierce in his voicemail, or respond to Antenori’s assertion that he didn’t mention the fund or ask for an expenditure in LD10.
“The letter speaks for itself,” Liburdi said. “Everybody knows that Steve Pierce is affiliated with that fund, so this was the appropriate response.”
Liburdi said he planned to send similar letters to other candidates, as well, though he wouldn’t say who.
When the Republican Victory Fund waded into the LD16 Senate primary, where it spent $52,730 on attack mailers against Fillmore, Pierce fended off criticism by saying he had no control over the committee’s strategy or where the money was spent. He said his only role was in raising money for the committee.
Antenori questioned how a request for help from Pierce could be construed as attempted coordination if Pierce has no control over expenditures.
Pierce could not immediately be reached for comment.