Big Names Tucked Away Deep Within Paper Trail

January 8, 2011

What do Fife Symington III, the Republican governor of Arizona in the 1990s, and David Waid, who led the Arizona Democratic Party five years ago, have in common?

Operatives within their respective political consulting firms played roles in the creation of daisy-chained independent political committees that were heavily active last fall in Arizona’s more competitive legislative races. 

Not that it’s easy to tell. 

Following the money trail of campaign finance is mostly a matter of following the paper trail of disclosure reports filed with the Arizona Secretary of State. The disclosure system, and the online access to it, are models of openness. Within that, however, one encounters a maze of complexity. 

Each political organization actually must file a series of reports over the course of the year, culminating with the final submission one month after the election.  Those reports are submitted by a myriad of organizations – candidate committees, political party organizations at every level, PACs, political funds created by businesses and labor unions, and independent political committees.  And of course those various organizations are giving and receiving from each other.

One Part of the Maze

The 85 independent political committees that are registered are just one part of that maze.  But the committees, whose activities must be conducted without the advice or consent of the candidates, provide an important barometer of where the campaign hotspots were and who was pouring fuel on or trying to douse the flames.

Shorn of the organizational maze, what happened is pretty simple.  Political contributors paid, indirectly, for direct-mail programs that either supported their candidates or discredited their opponents.  The cost tag of these programs was $1.3 million for legislative races – far more than similar expenditures in statewide races.  The vast majority of that money was spent trying to intervene in the state’s few competitive districts.

Thinking Arizona’s examination of the disclosure documents records reveals an interconnecting web of relationships among various of the political committees, most of them sporting fanciful but benign names that sometimes make it difficult for the public to discern who’s doing what to whom.  State law requires that literature or advertisements must ”include the names and telephone numbers of the three political committees making the largest contributions to the political committee making the independent expenditure.”  Even in full compliance with the law, understanding where the money initiated once it passes through a committee or two can be pretty hard to do.

Delving Underneath the Covers

Take, for instance, a group called Arizona Job Alliance.

This independent political committee was funded in 2010 by $60,000 from the Arizona Democratic Party, $15,000 each from the Political Committee of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona and a trial lawyers’ committee called Arizonans for Local Control.  Two other committees added small amounts. Arizona Job Alliance then turned over all $90,000 to four other committees with which it is closely related. 

Each of the committees filed separate disclosure reports that differ in a variety of particulars.  But Arizona Jobs Alliance, along with one of the committees that contributed a small amount to it and each of the four committees that it funded, all have the same treasurer and the same email address.  They, along with the phone number listed for Arizona Jobs Alliance and one of the committees it funded, are connected to Ziemba Waid Public Affairs.

Ziemba Waid is a political consulting firm founded by Tom Ziemba, a longtime legislative and political aide in Washington who also founded the non-profit Project for Arizona’s Future, and David Waid, who served as finance director, executive director and ultimately in 2006 as chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.  Their firm provided what is described on the campaign disclosure documents as “professional services” for three of the four committees funded by Arizona Jobs Alliance.

Waid did not respond to a telephoned request and James Mapstead, the chairman of Arizona Jobs Alliance, to an emailed request to explain the interrelationship of the various committees.

One District Per Committee

The four subsidiary committees each targeted one of the state’s competitive legislative districts.  Tempe Citizens for Fair Government worked in District 17, covering most of Tempe and southern Scottsdale.  The East Valley Education Council targeted District 20 which is made up of southern Tempe and southeastern Phoenix.  Greater Yuma Family Advocates took District 24 in that part of the state. And Southern Arizona Family Alliance covered District 25 in southeastern Arizona.

They had at their disposal the $90,000 from Arizona Jobs Alliance and another $50,000 they added from other funders. The close connections among the committees made it tough even for those involved to keep everything straight.

Arizona Jobs Alliance reported in its disclosure statement that it received a $15,000 contribution from Planned Parenthood.  That’s the way Planned Parenthood reported it as well.  But Tempe Citizens, one of the committees with the same treasurer as Arizona Jobs Alliance, saw it differently.  Its statement subtracts $15,000 from the contribution made to it by Arizona Jobs Alliance, at least as listed in Arizona Jobs Alliance’s report, and instead states that it received the $15,000 contribution from Planned Parenthood. 

The Political Committee of Planned Parenthood Advocates is frequently listed, along with other organizations that gave lesser amounts to the endeavor, as a sponsor of the resulting direct-mail campaigns mounted against Republican candidates in the four districts.

Missing from mention in most if not all cases was the largest single underwriter of the effort, the Arizona Democratic Party.  Despite its contribution of $60,000, it was not mentioned in the mailers going to at least two of the districts.  The candidates who were the targets of the mailers in the other two districts do not recall it being listed on those either.

Being More Direct About It

The Arizona Republican Party was much more obvious in its efforts.  It directly spent $168,000 on campaigns discrediting the Democratic candidates in five districts.  Four of them – Districts 10 in northwest Phoenix, 20 in southeast Phoenix, 23 in Pinal County, and 26 in northwest Tucson – are among the more competitive in the state.  The fifth, District 12 on the west side of metropolitan Phoenix, is also fairly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats although it has uniformly elected Republicans.

Its efforts were supplemented though by another cluster of independent political committees.   

One called Arizonans For A Sound Economy began last year with money left over from the 2008 election.  That was supplemented in 2010 with $44,000 of new funding provided entirely by Republican House Victory, an independent committee created the year previously by House Speaker Kirk Adams.

Directly or indirectly, Sound Economy used the money for mail campaigns opposing five Democratic candidates, all of whom were running in competitive districts.  Four of the targets were elected representatives who served with Adams in the House.  The fifth served with him two years ago.

Spreading the Money Around

Sound Economy itself conducted two of the anti-campaigns in Phoenix districts 10 and 20.  The mailers received by voters disclosed that the primary funder was Republican House Victory. 

The remainder of the funds was doled out by Sound Economy to two other committees with which it is associated:

  • Save Our Jobs! used its share to conduct mail campaigns against candidates in Tempe’s District 17 and Tucson’s District 26.  One such piece described its sponsors as “Paid for by Save Our Jobs! Major Funding Provided by Arizonans for a Sound Economy.”
  • Citizens For Economic Prosperity used its share in combination with a smaller contribution from District 11 Republicans to conduct another such campaign attacking the Democratic incumbent in that competitive district in northeast Phoenix.

The five campaigns were divvied up, even though the committees that conducted them are linked.

Again, each of the committees filed separate disclosure reports that differ in a variety of particulars but have similarities as well.  The chairman of Sound Economy is listed as Tim “Siefert”, while the treasurer of Citizens for Economic Prosperity is Tim “Sifert.”  The mailing address for Sound Economy is the mailing address of Save Our Jobs!.  The filing address for Sound Economy, in a building on Camelback Road in Phoenix that provides a suite of virtual offices for numerous small businesses, is also the mailing and filing address for Citizens for Economic Prosperity.  Sifert, his email address, and the Camelback Road address all are connected with the Symington Group, the political consulting firm founded by Fife Symington. 

According to the Symington Group’s filings with the Corporation Commission, Sifert has been a partner in the company since 2007.  As with the Democrats, he chose not to  respond to telephoned and emailed requests to explain the interrelationship of the various committees.

The campaign disclosure reports might well contain more such connections.  It’s all there, or at least most of it is.  But without spending long hours sifting through the documents, making inquiries and benefiting from a little luck, how would one know?

– Richard Gilman

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