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Money trail against GOP candidates leads to unions

A coalition of Democratic groups and unions, including the state’s largest teachers’ association, funded two political committees that have spent more than $1 million against five Republican candidates for the Senate in the last few weeks.

Arizona Accountability Project and Revitalize Arizona, which were created last September, collected more than $1 million by Oct. 25, their finance reports showed.

The impressive haul confirmed what some suspected — that organized labor is flexing its muscle and is trying to take out Republicans who are running in competitive districts to create a more labor-friendly atmosphere at the state Capitol.

The GOP-led Legislature has targeted unions in the last few years.

In the last session, Republicans approved legislation to allow the state to more easily fire its workers. They also tried to prohibit automatic paycheck deductions for union dues, which unions saw as a blunt attempt to hit their bottom line.

Some Republicans even tried to end unions’ rights to negotiate over salary and working conditions.

The Arizona Accountability Project and Revitalize Arizona used contributions from the labor groups to attack Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix, Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, Sen. Jerry Lewis, R-Mesa, Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, and businessman Joe Ortiz, a Republican from Casa Grande.

The two committees’ level of spending is unprecedented in state history, prompting an officer of Arizona’s business chamber to say the unions have declared “war.”

The groups raised labor money through two other independent expenditure committees — Residents for Accountability and Revive Arizona Now.

These two groups provided Arizona Accountability Project and Revitalize Arizona some degree of anonymity for many weeks.

In attacking Republican candidates, the two groups complied with reporting requirements by saying their major funders were Residents for Accountability and Revive Arizona Now.

The latest campaign finance reports confirmed that their contributors are mostly union organizations.

Among Revive Arizona Now’s funders are Great Schools Now, which contributed $50,000 and is the Arizona Education Association’s independent expenditure arm; the National Education Association, which gave $266,000; the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which contributed $100,000; and, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which gave $50,000.

Mi Familia Vota, a Latino advocacy group, and Arizona List, which seeks to elect pro-choice Democratic women to office, also contributed $50,000 and $5,000 respectively.

A political arm of Democratic lawmakers, Building Arizona’s Future, also gave $20,000.

Meanwhile, the finance reports showed that Arizona Pipe Traders 469, a local union, provided the bulk of the funding to Residents for Accountability, which then contributed money to Revitalize Arizona, the group that went after GOP candidates.

According to its pre-general election report, Residents for Accountability’s biggest contributor is the Arizona Pipe Traders 469, which gave $587,000.

Other funders included the Arizona Professional Firefighters, which gave  $30,000, and the Washington, D.C.-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which gave $100,000.

Some Capitol observers said organized labor is taking a huge gamble and is courting a backlash by attacking Republicans, especially if they lose their bet.

The critics surmised that the attacks only serve to alienate potential allies.

But Democratic lawmakers and sources who are intimately familiar with the strategy said the unions are tired of playing nice, and that political subtlety hasn’t stopped an avalanche of anti-union measures in the last few years.

They said Republicans declared a war on organized labor and that with their backs against the wall, the unions are forced to fight back. This time, they’ve gone to battle with the best attacks ads money can buy.

A source with firsthand knowledge of the union-backed groups’ strategy earlier told the Arizona Capitol Times that Republicans’ anti-union, anti-welfare and anti-women agenda is to be blamed for the unions’ ferocious response. 

“Because of the extreme nature and the reckless behavior of the Republican majority over the last several years, they have now made Arizona a battleground state,” the source said.

“The thing that they (Republicans) haven’t realized yet is that time is not on their side,” the source said, adding the shifting demographics in Arizona and a galvanized organized labor will chip away at the GOP’s influence over the years.

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