Four independent expenditure committees have pumped more than $38,000 into efforts to puncture Russell Pearce's campaign in the Republican primary for a Mesa-based state Senate seat, according to the latest campaign finance reports released by the Secretary of State's office.
The most generous donors to the campaigns to block Pearce's nomination make their living in the fast-food industry. They have been battling Pearce over his efforts to clamp down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, arguing the Pearce-backed employer sanctions law unfairly punishes businesses and would weaken the economy. Instead they are pushing an initiative that Pearce claims would "gut" the sanctions law.
The top donors to Mesa Deserves Better, the committee headed by Republican consultant Nathan Sproul, are McDonald's franchisee Mac Magruder and his wife, Sandra. The couple has given $10,000 to the committee, which is behind a series of campaign mailers that have accused Pearce of having ties with white supremacists, and has dug up a 28-year-old divorce case in which he was accused of domestic violence.
Pearce, currently a state House member, is running against immigration attorney Kevin Gibbons in the primary.
Sproul and wife Tiffani have pitched in $10,000 to Mesa Deserves Better. Other major contributors to the committee are connected to MJKL Enterprises, which owns local Carl's Jr. and Pizza Patron franchises. While Jason LeVecke, who runs MJKL Enterprises, has not personally donated money to the committee, his family has chipped in $4,000. Joseph and Willinda-Marie Groff gave $8,440. Joseph Groff is listed as an administrator at MJKL on campaign disclosure reports.
The committee has raised more than $32,000 and spent $8,000 thus far.
But the names come as no surprise. Even before LeVecke made it publicly known he's helping raise funds, Pearce and his supporters left no opportunity unturned to highlight that the "open borders, fast-food crowd" wanted him out for personal gain. This back and forth has been ongoing as the opposition has lobbed attacks at Pearce over his alleged connections with white supremacists or his wife's domestic violence accusation from a 1980 court filing.
While Mesa Deserves Better and another independent group, Judgment Matters, got Pearce supporters' tongues wagging because of their financiers, two other committees also have been using television advertisements to try to bombard Pearce's candidacy for the last few weeks. Those committees, Protect Arizona's Future and The People of AZ, are both headed by Tim Hill, a Democrat and head of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona union.
Protect Arizona's Future has raised nearly $125,000 and spent it on several legislative races, including the Pearce-Gibbons contest. Of that, $70,000 came from the group identified on campaign disclosure statements as "Arizona's Fire Fighters."
Hill has said while he is a Democrat, many in the group are Republicans and independents. Protect Arizona's Future has spent more than $3,000 on the Pearce-Gibbons race, and given $50,000 to The People of AZ, which has spent nearly $20,000 on television ads against Pearce.
The politicking of a Democrat in a heavily Republican district primary is not a complete surprise to Massie Ritsch, communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.
"If it's a Republican district and there's no chance for a Democrat to win, other Democrat groups would prefer a moderate Republican to win," Ritsch said.
That goes along with Hill's philosophy of supporting moderate Republicans to be able to have a "rational political discourse."
"What we're looking for are moderates in all parties and not someone whose entire thought process is set in a stiff ideological box," Hill said earlier.
Political consultant Stan Barnes launched the only independent expenditure committee in favor of Pearce. According to campaign finance documents, Barnes raised $1,000 but has spent nothing thus far. He did commission a poll earlier which showed Pearce leading the race at 51 percent to 13 percent for Gibbons. Barnes said he would probably end up paying for that poll himself.
Gibbons is running a traditionally financed campaign, raising money from private donors. Pearce is financing his campaign through the state's clean elections system, despite being a strong critic of such public funding. Pearce defended that decision, saying it was the only way to be able to match Gibbons' financial backing.
Gibbons has raised $81,265. Pearce lists total receipts of $81,577.
Meanwhile, in the latest salvo from Mesa Deserves Better, the group accused Pearce of soliciting donations he needed to qualify for public financing through the Web site of a person known to have links to white supremacists and anti-Semites.
Doug Cole, a Pearce campaign consultant, said Friday a blanket solicitation for $5 contributions needed to qualify for clean election funds was sent by e-mail this spring to hundreds of supporters. Someone must have posted that solicitation on the supremacist Web site, Cole said in an e-mail to the Tribune.