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With independent expenditure committees, it’s buyer beware

Chuck Coughlin (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

There has been a lot of talk during the past few weeks about independent expenditure committees and their impacts. Specifically, there has been a lot of discussion about the direction and effectiveness of the Senate Republican Victory Fund.

The fact of the matter is there are two types of independent expenditures: IEs for “impact” and IEs for “appearance.” Think of it as work horses versus show ponies.

Work horses: An “impact” independent expenditure is done for candidates who need real help. Whether it’s because they are under attack, short on funds, or facing a strong opponent, the backers of the independent expenditure are there to help turn the tide for a certain candidate to win. Without them, a victory is far from certain. Most party expenditures (both Republican and Democrat) fall into this category.

Show ponies: An “appearance” independent expenditure is done for candidates who are likely to win. The aim of this type of IE is to get in the good graces of those the IE backers are supporting. Think of it as betting on the favorite in Las Vegas — there is a strong likelihood that they are going to win so you better pile on to make sure you are in on the action.

The Senate Republican Victory Fund was, no doubt, a show pony.

The fund manager and his consultant, Camilla Strongin, believe they did the yeoman’s work of steadfastly defending the Republican majority in the Arizona Senate. According to the Feb. 1 opinion piece “Querard’s letter against Pierce ‘sadly misinformed and bemusing’” written by Strongin and published in the Arizona Capitol Times, without their work, they believe the Senate would have been split 15-15.

Their postulation is laughable. Most of their money was spent on candidates in Republican leaning districts where victories were in little doubt. Moreover, their failure to spend money in other competitive districts while pouring money into a Legislative District 26 race in Tempe where there was a 13.6 percent Democrat voting advantage demonstrates that they were certainly more British Riding Pony than Clydesdale.

As political consultant Constantin Querard pointed out in his opinion piece “Pierce used Victory Fund in failed effort to retain presidency” published in the Jan. 25 edition of the Arizona Capitol Times, their independent expenditures had very little to do with helping Republicans and much more to do with maintaining a position of power.

Ultimately, the Senate Republican Victory Fund’s managerial bloodlines could have told most bettors about this show pony

The same folks who managed the Victory Fund convinced millionaire Dave Thompson to spend more than $1.5 million of his own money to stand up against every mayor in Maricopa County in opposition to Proposition 400 (the ½ cent sales tax extension for transportation in 2004, which won with 57 percent of the vote) They lost. The next time out on the track, this team convinced millionaire Buz Mills to spend more than $2 million of his own money to run for governor. They lost. And now, the third time around, they spent more than $600,000 for a show pony run to retain the Arizona Senate presidency. They lost.

It is time to put this show pony to rest on a farm in Virginia. Let’s hope it does better in retirement.

When it comes to independent expenditures, it is buyer beware. Just know who your jockey is before betting on your next pony and make sure the horse isn’t stabled at Black Widow farms.

“escape from the black widow spider is a miracle as great as art. what a web she can weave slowly drawing you to her she’ll embrace you then when she’s satisfied she’ll kill you still in her embrace and suck the blood from you.”

— Charles Bukowski

— Chuck Coughlin is president of HighGround Public Affairs Consultants.


  1. So John McComish was in a safe Republican district he was certain to win? Um, OK

  2. Chuck is spot on with his commentary.

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