Political donations make the candidate, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas contends - especially when it comes to his opponent.
Thomas, a Republican, began his re-election campaign in earnest this week by releasing a broadside against Tim Nelson, accusing his Democratic rival of garnering too much support from criminal defense attorneys. On Tuesday, Thomas released a list of 55 defense lawyers and their spouses who have contributed to Nelson's campaign, totaling more than $15,000.
Thomas argues those contributions show Nelson has an unseemly alliance with lawyers who work to free suspected criminals the county attorney prosecutes.
Nelson vehemently denied the charge, pointing out that the defense lawyers' contributions equate to only about 5 percent of the $300,000 his campaign has raised.
"The idea that this somehow curries my favor is absolutely crazy, and I reject it entirely," Nelson said.
The contributions by defense attorneys are not necessarily buying influence, Thomas said.
"I'm not disputing the right of these folks to contribute money to the candidate of their choice," Thomas said. "But what is troubling is that they're trying to overturn my policies."
In particular, Nelson has said he would eliminate Thomas' "plead to the lead" policy that often requires prosecutors to seek the highest charge and maximum sentence possible based on the crime, not the strength of the case.
Nelson asserts that the policy hamstrings prosecutors. Thomas believes that it ensures that criminals face severe punishment.
"What that means in practice is that prosecutors can cut easy plea bargains with criminal defendants," Thomas said.
Nelson counters that the policy increases the likelihood that prosecutors will bring weak cases to trial. That makes it more likely guilty people will go free because the county can't prove the higher charge and, in the end, it wastes money.
In his campaign's news release, Thomas said it is also inappropriate for Nelson to take campaign contributions from people who have business before the county attorney's office.
However, Thomas has repeatedly done just that.
Thomas' finance reports show a horde of contributions from attorneys at Valley law firms that have received millions of dollars in business from the county attorney's office in recent years.
Burch & Cracchiolo, a Phoenix law firm, has billed Thomas' office for more than $1.2 million in outside legal services since 2005, county budget documents show.
This election cycle, 22 of the firm's lawyers have donated a combined $6,790 to Thomas' campaign, according to finance reports.
Donations from Burch & Cracchiolo account for less than 3 percent of the $262,000 that Thomas has raised.
Thomas on Wednesday declined to discuss contributions to his campaign because, he said, it would distract from his criticism of Nelson. "I really believe that this issue is so important, I have to focus on this one at this time so the public understands the stakes here," he said.
Thomas added that he would be willing to discuss his campaign finances at a later date.