Since last summer, a Democratic political action committee (PAC), Revitalize Arizona, has invested over $120,200 into State Representative David Cook (R-Globe). Their latest investment was nearly $12,500 in communications advocacy, reported on Monday.
In total, Revitalize Arizona invested 250 percent more into Cook than in the next-highest candidate from 2021 and this year, all of whom were Democrats.
Altogether, Revitalize Arizona spent about $128,500 in favor of Democratic candidates from 2021 to present — about $20,800 more for eight candidates.
Over the past decade, Revitalize Arizona has spent well over $1 million opposing Republican state and local-level candidates. By comparison, the PAC spent approximately $10,000 opposing one Democratic candidate in 2020: State Representative Richard Andrade (D-Glendale).
Revitalize Arizona funds began flowing to Cook last June, after Cook was the only Republican to join Democrats in voting against legislation that would’ve prohibited cities and counties from requiring prevailing wages or union labor as a condition of receiving a bid or contract.
Revitalize Arizona, a Tempe-based PAC, is chaired by Israel Torres, a partner in the Torres Consulting and Law Group, which chairs the same address as the PAC. The PAC funneled $48,000 to the group in 2020, totaling over $122,100 over the past decade. It also paid Torres Multicultural Communications, previously known as Torres Marquez Communications, over $681,200 over the past decade, with the majority paid out to the firm in 2019: nearly $646,000.
All of their funds come from another PAC run by Torres: Residents for Accountability. That PAC receives its funds largely from unions. Among its funders from the past two years are the Arizona Pipe Trades 469 PAC, affiliated with a union, and Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) Action Fund PAC, affiliated with a social justice nonprofit. Over the past decade, a number of other union-affiliated PACs have funded Residents for Accountability.
The PAC has a history of investing in Democratic polling companies such as the D.C.-based Lake Research Partners, whose past clientele have included President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Janet Napolitano, Sheila Jackson Lee, AFL-CIO, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Arizona.
They’ve also invested in Democratic polling company SKD Knickerbocker, from which Anita Dunn hailed — Biden’s senior advisor and former President Barack Obama’s communications director.
AZ Free News sampled 46 legislators’ latest campaign finance reports of the state legislature and found that 22 of 47 legislators sampled received 50 percent or more of their campaign contributions from either lobbyists or PACs.
PACs and lobbyists have significant footing in the legislature. That would explain why the first week of January is known as “hell week” within the legislature — not because they’re in preparation for the new session kicking off, but because lobbyists are scrambling to fundraise for legislators. Arizona law prohibits legislators from receiving lobbyist campaign contributions while in regular session.
The following are state legislators that receive 50 percent or more of their campaign funds from PACs and lobbyists combined:
In the House, Richard Andrade (D-Glendale), about 51 percent; Ben Toma (R-Peoria), about 56 percent; Lorenzo Sierra (D-Avondale), about 62 percent; Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), about 64 percent; John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), about 64 percent; Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa), about 64 percent; Diego Espinoza (D-Tolleson), about 66 percent; Joanne Osborne (R-Goodyear), about 74 percent; David Cook (R-Globe), about 75 percent; Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix), about 79 percent; John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction), about 83 percent; Tim Dunn (R-Yuma), about 87 percent; and Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley), about 96 percent.
In the Senate, Vince Leach (R-Tucson), about 53 percent; T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge), about 56 percent; David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista), about 71 percent; Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Sahuarita), about 73 percent; Lupe Contreras (D-Avondale), about 75 percent; Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City), about 79 percent; Tyler Pace (R-Mesa), about 82 percent; Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye), about 90 percent; and David Livingston (R-Peoria), about 91 percent.
Of note, all of Gowan’s 32 contributions came from outside of his district — 28 came from Maricopa County. Additionally, $5,000 of Gowan’s $8,950 non-lobbyist contributions came from Phoenix Coyotes owner Alex Merulo.
Butler received over $10,000 from the Tucson branch of one of the largest labor unions in the country: the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW). Her PAC contributions totaled $13,000, and $150 of her individual contributions were from lobbyists. There were several inactive lobbyist donors among the individual contributions totaling $250. In all, Butler’s total contributions were over $13,700.
Wilmeth’s ten non-lobbyist donors included three inactive lobbyists and one wife of an inactive lobbyist.
Five legislators sampled reportedly received less than 10 percent of funds from PACs and lobbyists: Morgan Abraham, about 4 percent; Quang Nguyen, about 7 percent; Judy Burges, about 7 percent; Amish Shah, about 7 percent; and Joseph Chaplik, about 8 percent.
There were several legislators sampled that we couldn’t review because their reports haven’t been filed yet — even though they were due well over two months ago.
State Representative Alma Hernandez (D-Tucson) still hasn’t filed her campaign finance report due April 15. Hernandez has been late consistently since her first year in office (2018), accruing $3,500 in fines altogether. Her latest campaign finance report, which she has yet to file, is 76 days late and she owed $1,675 currently — her highest single fine to date. It took Hernandez 69 extra days to file her 2021 cumulative finance report: it was due January 15, but she filed it March 25.
Just over half of Hernandez’s individual donors from her last report, the cumulative one for 2021, were from out of state and made up the majority of those contributions: $5,980 versus the $3,920 from Arizona. Among them were several prominent figures in the Jewish community including acclaimed author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s son, Elisha Wiesel, as well as Broadway star Jonah Platt.
State Senator Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D-Tucson) did file her report on time — but like Hernandez, over half of the individual contributors on her latest campaign finance report were from out of state.
It appears that the Hernandez siblings are alike when it comes to campaign finance reports. Since the year his sister took office, Hernandez grew increasingly tardy with filing the reports. For two separate 2020 reports, he accrued over $5,100 in fines. His 2021 cumulative report was filed late by 67 days, and he was fined $1,450 for that. Both the Hernandez siblings are 76 days late on their first quarter report.
Another perennially tardy filer is State Representative César Chávez (D-Maryvale). Like Hernandez, he is 76 dates late and owes $1,675, but for his senate campaign’s first quarter report. Chávez was also late by 58 days to file his senate campaign’s 2021 cumulative report, owing $1,225.
Similarly to Hernandez, Chávez has a history of late filings, the highest of which were 121 days late to file his 2020 pre-general election filing, 163 days late to file his 2016 pre-general election report, and 953 days late to file his 2016 first report for the fourth quarter and post-general election report.
One interesting campaign finance report came from State Senator Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff). The report totaled nearly 600 pages, with 586 dedicated to individual contributions alone that totaled nearly $360,000. No lobbyists could be discerned among the over 7,000 contributors, and over 1,600 of them were Arizonans. A vast majority were retired, nearly 4,500 of them, bolstered by the self-employed and small business owners.
Only one PAC donated to Rogers: the Save America PAC gave one contribution of $5,000 in January.
Arizona Democrats opposed a bill allowing judges the option to order community service in lieu of court fines for low-income individuals. Their contention was that the legislation took money away from the Arizona Clean Elections Commission. The commission derives its money from speeding tickets.
Under the bill, the community service would be credited per hour at minimum wage rates to make up for the fine, and rounded up to the nearest dollar. This would extend to any monetary obligations sentenced by the court, including civil penalties, surcharges, or any assessments or fees. Time payment fees would be exempted from this bill.
On Thursday, the Arizona House passed the bill 32-27. Only one Democrat voted in favor of the bill: State Representative Alma Hernandez (D-Tucson). No Republicans voted against it. It took over 10 minutes to complete the vote, and no discussions took place.
Likewise, all Democrats except for one voted against the bill in the Senate. Assistant Minority Leader Lupe Contreras (D-Avondale) voted for the bill.
The bill was introduced by Majority Whip Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City). He explained during the House Transportation Committee that the idea for the legislation was borne out of his difficulties with a traffic citation. He learned that individuals must fork over more to set up a payment plan in the first place.
That’s not to mention any other fees, like those required for an appeal.
Biasiucci said that people shouldn’t be punished for not being able to afford a ticket. He described it as a “win-win” for the community and for individuals facing the fines.
State Representative Richard Andrade (D-Glendale) asked why the bill didn’t include Prop 105 language to exempt the clean elections commission.
Biasiucci responded that there are just under twenty other government agencies that also derive their money from speeding tickets. He also reminded Andrade that those who would qualify to do community service rather than pay the fine under this bill would be low-income individuals – not all individuals.
“[T]his is going to be such a small window of people – I mean, you’re talking about people who can’t afford it. And the judge has to approve it,” said Biasiucci. “This is not something that’s just going to impact other areas so much, and I firmly believe you shouldn’t be picking an agency over trying to help the people who can’t afford this. That’s why I decided I’m not going to pick one to exempt.”
According to Biasiucci, the clean elections commission has around $30 million in their account. They only spent $4 million last year. He noted that the idea that this commission would be hurt by this, when they’re rolling over nearly $27 million every year, doesn’t make sense.
“Bottom line is: this is good for the people that are needing it the most,” said Biasiucci. “I don’t care what agency’s being impacted – I support the border protection, I support a lot of things speeding tickets go to. I don’t like the fact that you have organizations that are being funded solely from tickets – I mean, that to me is ridiculous that we’re banking on speeding tickets to fund these groups, whether it’s approved by the voters or not.”
Currently, the commission gets 10 percent of each ticket.
The bill is timely. The legislature recently passed a bill that will increase speeding ticket fines for certain infractions.
For failing to yield right-of-way to emergency vehicles or slow down before stationary vehicles, the current maximum fines sit at $250. The newly-proposed fines come at three levels: $275 for the first violation, $500 the second, and $1,000 for all subsequent violations.
The bill allowing community service in lieu of speeding tickets was transmitted to the governor on Thursday.
Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to email@example.com.