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Pierce used Victory Fund in failed effort to retain presidency

Former Senate President Steve Pierce’s guest opinion (12/17/12) on how and why he was ousted as Senate president is predictably self-serving, but the complete story ought to be considered.

Pierce finally concedes that he was in charge of his committee.  That is fine, legal, and frankly a good thing.  But why pretend otherwise for so long?

Pierce claims his work was “genuine, unselfish, and truly spent in any way possible to keep the majority.”  Unfortunately that is untrue.

Pierce restarted the dormant Republican Victory Fund (RVF), giving himself control, but Pierce sold the RVF as an effort to help Senate Republicans protect their majority, not as a leadership PAC. He raised money likely as George Washington did back in the days of Valley Forge, when Washington wrote to the Congress explaining that he had the men, but without ammunition, the war would surely be lost. So donors stepped up and contributed — some because they supported Pierce personally, others because they supported the majority.

Then Pierce parted ways with George Washington rather dramatically. Pierce used money raised to protect Republicans to attack a Republican candidate in a primary in an overwhelmingly Republican district. This was political suicide. Team Pierce spent nearly $78,000 to attack John Fillmore and prop up Rich Crandall. Members were upset, as were some donors, and understandably so. One can imagine the reaction in the U.S. Congress if Washington had received his shipment of ammunition and began executing his own men.

Pierce’s campaign team spent heavily to convince voters that Crandall was more conservative than Fillmore, a ludicrous proposition. Ideology certainly did not matter to Pierce, only that Crandall would vote for Pierce for president and Fillmore would not. Once Steve Pierce spent majority funds to attack his own members, he lost his presidency.

Some committee money was spent in races where both the majority and Pierce’s interests were jointly served, like helping John McComish or Chester Crandell (a client of mine in case anyone perceives my writing as sour grapes). But Pierce wasted money trying to save other pro-Pierce votes like Jerry Lewis. Polling showed Lewis losing by 10 points, yet money kept getting spent. Lewis lost by nearly 14 points. Pierce wasted money to curry favor with Steve Yarbrough who had no chance of losing. Yarbrough won by 14 points.

What Pierce never did was spend money to help candidates where Pierce felt sure he would not get a leadership vote. The most glaring case of political malpractice was the LD8 Senate race where Republican Joe Ortiz (also a client) was running against Barbara McGuire. The race was competitive and the Democrats knew it, attacking Ortiz early and often.

But the attacks were not working. As balloting commenced, and even after $50,000 of attacks, Ortiz maintained a small lead outside the margin of error in internal polls.

When the attacks reached $90,000, polling had the race even, which meant there was a small Ortiz cushion in the ballot boxes based on votes already cast. A critical seat was still very winnable for the Republicans, but help never came.

Pierce spent $78,000 on Crandall in a race Republicans could not lose, $75,000 on Lewis in a race Republicans could not win, and $13,000 on Yarbrough in a cakewalk, yet he abandoned the most competitive Senate race in Arizona without firing a shot. Joe Ortiz lost by 1.5 percent — less than 1,500 votes — after the Democrats and their allies spent more than $154,000 attacking him and more than $46,000 propping up Barbara McGuire.

Team Pierce said they only spent where they could make a difference in helping Republicans pick up or defend seats. Pierce himself wrote the money was “truly spent in any way possible to keep the majority.” Yet combine the waste above with the nearly $40,000 left in the committee’s coffers and there was $200,000+ that should have been better spent. That isn’t Monday morning quarterbacking — it was as obvious then as it is now. Democrats and their allies knew it and spent $200,000 on it. Team Pierce had their own $200,000, but they refused to spend a dime, and our Republican candidate lost.

Sadly, the misleadingly named RVF was only a vehicle for the perpetuation of Steve Pierce’s Senate presidency. Had he chosen a more appropriate name for it and been upfront with people about its purpose, I believe he still would have raised a great deal of money, been successful, and likely would still be Senate president. But by acting as the caucus’ champion while firing bullets at his own Republicans, and abandoning others on the battlefield, he lost the trust of his members and was voted out.

Pierce scolds those who opposed him, writing “those who voted against me define themselves.  They obviously want to take the Senate and our beautiful state in a different direction than one focused on the economy and jobs.” Nonsense. I have no doubt that the Republican caucus wants to continue to safeguard our state, grow our economy, and continue to attract and grow jobs. They simply do not trust Steve Pierce to lead them.

Pierce’s legacy may ultimately not be a one-year record of turning things in “a new direction” — his way of saying “we’re not doing immigration bills.”  Rather, it will be written for the next two years every time a good bill dies because Republicans are one vote short of passage.

— Constantin Querard is the founder and president of Discessio, LLC, a consulting firm that works exclusively with conservative Republican candidates. Among the firm’s 2012 winners are 20 Republican legislators.

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One comment

  1. Thank you for printing this informative article. The sad part is how many people will see and read it. I only hope that the people of AZ. will wake up and realize who and with what interests control the state of AZ and the capital, the republicans sold.

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