A longtime Republican campaign consultant and the owner of a string of fast-food restaurants are behind a campaign to persuade Mesa residents to oust one of the most powerful Republicans from the Legislature.
Jason LeVecke told Capitol Media Services on Thursday he is helping to finance Mesa Deserves Better because he believes voters in west Mesa are not familiar with Russell Pearce, the man they first elected to the House in 2000 and three times since. Pearce, legally barred from serving more than eight consecutive years or four terms in the House, is running for the state Senate.
And LeVecke, owner of the Valley's Carl's Jr. and Pizza Patron franchises and a major Republican donor in previous years, was unapologetic about the content of a controversial flier mailed to Republican voters citing claims purportedly made by Pearce's wife about violent behavior when she filed for divorce 28 years ago. LuAnne Pearce now says those assertions were untrue and the petition was withdrawn shortly after it was filed.
"The voters deserve to know the character of the people they are electing," LeVecke said. "The people in the district don't know all the facts."
LeVecke said that mailing is not going to be the last word. He said Pearce has a "pattern of practice" that will become the focus of future fliers, including one going out today.But Nathan Sproul said it was his idea to target Pearce. Sproul, who has worked to elect Republicans, said defeating Pearce is necessary for the GOP to survive.
"The Republican Party in Arizona is either going to decide to be the party of Russell Pearce and the John Birch wing of the party - and let those people become the spokesmen and the leaders of our party - or we are going to follow the path of (Sens.) John McCain and Jon Kyl and be a party that stands for core value but is also inclusive of dissenting opinions," he said.
Sproul has not revealed the names of others who have contributed to the campaign or the amount LeVecke has donated.
The focus on Pearce is not coincidental.
LeVecke, who lives in Phoenix, is a primary foe of what may be the toughest law in the nation to punish companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers, a law crafted by Pearce. He also is one of the organizers of Wake Up Arizona, which filed suit to have the law overturned.
And Sproul is a consultant to a ballot campaign to try to persuade voters on Nov. 4 to undermine key provisions of that law.
Pearce told Capitol Media Services the comments about saving the Republican Party are just cover for the real agenda: Targeting him because of the employer sanctions law.
Pearce said he met with LeVecke three times when crafting the law and later changes adopted earlier this year. "I bent over backwards to make sure that nobody can get into trouble accidentally," he said.
The campaign is taking advantage of a provision in state law to ensure it does not indirectly help Pearce.
Candidates who run with public money, like Pearce, are entitled to a set amount of cash. If foes spend more, the candidates get a dollar-for-dollar match.
But that match ends when they hit three times the original limit. Pearce already hit that figure, $58,146 in his case, because of spending by his privately financed Republican primary foe Kevin Gibbons - meaning anything Mesa Deserves Better spends will not be matched.
LeVecke said his disagreements with Pearce go beyond his role in getting an employer sanctions measure approved.
It was the way he did it, LeVecke said, that led him to believe that Pearce lacks the character to be a legislator. He said Pearce at first said there would be no effort to take the issue to the ballot but then there was.
LeVecke and Sproul, however, are going after Pearce for his personal conduct as well as his stance on employer sanctions. One mailer pulls allegations from a 28-year-old divorce petition filed by his wife.
The complaint alleged that Pearce "is possessed of a violent temper, and has from time to time hit and shoved the wife, the last time being on February 3rd (1980), when he grabbed the wife by the throat and threw her down."
She never pursued the divorce and the couple reconciled. And in a prepared statement, she said the legal papers were filed "on my behalf" but the allegations she made "are not true."
Pearce said those who know him know the charges are false. "And it's a shame that anyone who doesn't know me would believe this garbage."
LeVecke, however, said it's more than just that. New fliers going out to voters will expose other pieces of Pearce's history, he said but refused to elaborate on what the history may be.