Dark money groups continue to dominate spending in the crucial District 6 state House and Senate races, according to the latest figures filed with the Arizona Secretary of State.
The two Senate and four House candidates have all raised normally eye-popping totals on their own. But so far the Independent Expenditure (IE) groups — including the political parties — have topped them.
State law allows these so-called dark money groups to raise as much money as they can without revealing the source of that money. They can spend as much as they like so long as they don’t directly coordinate their efforts with the candidates.
District 6 stretches from Flagstaff to Alpine and includes all of Rim Country and the White Mountains. Considered one of the most competitive districts in the state, District 6 could well determine party control of the state House.
However, the really big numbers so far have come in the Senate race for a rare, open seat.
Senate candidate Wendy Rogers has shattered all previous records for the district, both in out-of-district contributions and dark money groups both supporting and attacking her.
Rogers, a retired Air Force colonel and pilot, has raised $900,000 and spent $713,000 — almost $500,000 of that spent in the primary to unseat incumbent Republican Sylvia Allen.
That’s an astonishing amount of money — but outside groups have spent even more. The groups have spent $307,000 supporting her and $890,000 attacking her.
Despite that tidal wave of money, Democrat Felicia French appears to be holding her own — with donations and dark money support that would dwarf almost any other candidate in the past decade. French, a retired Army helicopter pilot, nurse and colonel, has raised $513,000 and spent $314,000. In addition, IE groups have spent $501,000 supporting her and $463,000 attacking her.
Put that all together and it adds up to almost $2 million boosting French and attacking Rogers, three quarters of it from outside, dark money groups.
Spending on behalf of Rogers totals about $1.7 million, two-thirds of it from outside, dark money groups.
French’s financial advantage is compounded by Rogers’ expensive primary, in which she unseated Allen — earning the opposition of many of Allen’s longtime Republican backers in a bare-knuckle struggle. French had no opposition in the primary and stockpiled cash for the general election.
The figures in the House races are only slightly less amazing, especially when you consider that if Democrats win both seats, they could gain control of the House.
Incumbent Walt Blackman has raised a respectable $111,000, of which he’s already spent $102,000. Dark money groups have spent another $48,000 on his behalf. However, the surprising number comes in the form of the $698,000 outside, dark money groups have spent against him. That means the outside groups — including Democratic Party groups — have spent nearly seven times as much as he’s raised.
Blackman has blasted the dark money spending attacks, saying groups like Opportunity Arizona have slandered him by making false claims that the Bronze Star recipient attended “lavish trips funded by lobbyists” as well as implying that he used campaign funds for an apartment in Phoenix.”
“I guess when all else fails, they planned to just start making things up. I’ve never attended any so-called ‘lavish trips’ nor do I have an apartment in Phoenix. Arizonans feel this kind of politics cheapens the process and most of us are tired of it,” said Blackman in a release.
In fact, many of the dark money attacks on all the candidates have been loaded with false or misleading claims — especially French. Reformers have complained that the lack of disclosures of dark money donors means that misleading attack ads have poisoned the political atmosphere, without making candidates or identified organizations take responsibility.
The dark money donations have dominated all the other House races as well.
Brenda Barton — who gave up the seat due to term limits and now wants it back — has raised $48,600 — much closer to the historical average for the seat. She has spent about $11,000. However, IE groups have spent $72,000 on her behalf and $107,000 opposing her. So the outside groups have spent three times as much as the candidate.
Democrat Coral Evans has raised $556,000 and spent $288,000. That’s a huge sum for a House candidate. Moreover, dark money groups have spent $401,000 to support her and $83,000 opposing her.
That leaves Art Babbott, the Coconino County supervisor running as an independent. He’s raised $80,000 — pretty good in a normal year. He’s spent $42,000. But here’s where he differs. No dark money groups have spent money on his behalf. On the other hand, IE groups have spent $119,000 against him.
All told, the four House candidates themselves have raised $800,000 and disclosed the donors as required by state law. The dark money groups have so far spent $1.4 million, both for and against the candidates. However, state law does not require the dark money groups to disclose their donors or the groups they represent.
A citizens group tried to get on the ballot a measure that would require dark money groups to disclose their donors, interests and spending — but the backers abandoned the effort when the pandemic made it too difficult to gather signatures. A previous effort to force disclosure of dark money sources failed narrowly, buried in a wave of opposition spending supported by dark money groups.