Maricopa County Republican Party Chairman A.J. LaFaro says U.S. Sen. John McCain and a political committee backed by moderate Republicans who support him are attempting to “ethnically cleanse” the party of conservative precinct committeemen.
LaFaro filed a complaint Sept. 19 with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission alleging a political group called the Arizona Grassroots Action PAC broke campaign finance laws by failing to register as a political committee in Arizona and disclose its spending. He said the group sent mailers and made automated phone calls to Republican voters to influence the voting in some precinct committeeman races.
“John McCain and the RINOs… think that holding our elected officials accountable warrants this kind of ethnic cleansing (of the GOP),” LaFaro told the Arizona Capitol Times.
But the Secretary of State’s Office declined to investigate the complaint, writing that there is no requirement for the group to file as a political committee or detail its spending. That’s because, although precinct committeemen are selected on the primary election ballot, the selection of the position is explicitly exempted from the definition of “election” for the purposes of state campaign finance laws.
In theory, a group could spend millions to back precinct committeemen candidates across the state and never have to disclose the spending – or where the money came from.
LaFaro said he plans to appeal the secretary of state’s decision not to investigate. He accused Arizona Grassroots Action PAC of “laundering… dark money” through various political committees.
But the group’s backers note that, although they are not required to disclose their spending in elections for PCs, they have registered with the Federal Elections Commission, and detailed the committee’s donors and spending there.
LaFaro’s complaint alleges the group conducted a series of independent expenditures in multiple legislative districts, including districts 23, 25, 28 and 29, and used mailers and automated phone calls to support its preferred slate of PCs.
The PCs the group supported are all moderate Republicans, and McCain supporters, LaFaro said.
Longtime Republican activist and donor Jane Lynch, who is a part of the committee, said LaFaro should know that the campaign finance laws don’t apply to PC races, since they are elected officials only within the party.
“In the definition of an election, which has been in statute for eons and most of us have known about for eons, it says what an election is and it exempts the election of a precinct committeeman,” she said.
Lynch said the committee, which she described as made up of more moderate, establishment Republicans, decided to intervene in the precinct committeeman races after both the Arizona and Maricopa County Republican parties censured McCain in January over his support for a comprehensive immigration reform and other bills “associated with liberal Democrats.”
A major function of precinct committeemen is electing party leaders in the county and state parties. Lynch said the group decided it was worth spending money in the PC races because the group’s founders objected to “certain actions taken by certain segment of the party.”
“Number One was when they censured (McCain)… This is the same segment of the party that claims (recalled Arizona Senate President) Russell Pearce as a friend,” she said.
LaFaro responded that “McCain should be ashamed of himself that he would be such a petty, vindictive individual, because the voters are holding him accountable.”
Lynch responded that the Republican Party should be welcoming to all types of Republicans.
“To say that we are ethnically cleansing the Republican Party is a rather extreme comment,” she said.
Messages left with McCain’s U.S. Senate office and Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham were not immediately returned.