Oct 24, 2022 - Politics

Arizona's political races turning nasty with money from independent groups

Illustration of a stack of money contrasted with abstract ballot elements.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As Election Day approaches, more negative yard signs and television commercials are sprouting up across the Valley, and they're often coming from independent expenditure (IE) groups that are hard to hold accountable.

Why it matters: These groups, which back specific candidates but aren't associated with them, have some anonymity, sometimes resulting in nastier attacks and misleading tactics.

Driving the news: An IE group put up signs last week featuring a mugshot of Democrat county attorney candidate Julie Gunnigle's campaign manager, Bruce Franks Jr., and noting that he'd been arrested for assaulting an officer.

  • Franks was arrested at a racial justice protest in 2020, but the charges were dropped after an ABC 15 investigation found Phoenix police and county prosecutors "grossly exaggerated evidence and provided clearly false information to grand juries."
  • Democrats slammed the attack ad from the IE group as racist, disgusting and misleading and called on Gunnigle's opponent, Rachel Mitchell, to denounce it.

The other side: Mitchell told The Arizona Republic she doesn't condone the signs and hopes they're taken down, but she said she can't control what outside groups do.

How it works: State law caps how much money candidates can accept from a single donor and prohibits labor unions and corporations from giving directly to candidates.

  • IE organizations can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions or corporations and spend them to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate.
  • Yes, but: These groups are prohibited from coordinating with the candidate they support.

The intrigue: While the IE groups and candidates legally can't work together, they're typically using similar messaging, which can make it hard to differentiate.

  • Candidates usually wait for these organizations to take the negative angle on their opponents, so they have some cover if criticism arises.

Be smart: IE groups are required to disclose whether they pay for political advertisements, and often you can look up who's donating money to those groups.

  • The Franks signs say they were funded by the Arizona Liberty Coalition, which according to the county recorder's website, received contributions from a number of business people, including Diamondbacks managing owner Ken Kendrick and Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill.

1 wrinkle: State law allows some IE groups to hide their donors, which is what people call "dark money."

  • Yes, but: Proposition 211 on November's ballot would limit these wholly anonymous donations.

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