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Outside groups poured money into race to succeed Giffords

Outside groups poured more than $1 million into polling and advertising in the three weeks before the election to replace former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, according to the Federal Election Commission.

National groups spent $517,570.06 in ads attacking Republican hopeful Jesse Kelly between May 24 and the special election on June 12, according to FEC reports filed last week.

They spent another $502,986.81 either supporting Kelly or attacking his rival, Democrat Ron Barber, who went on to win the special election.

The last-minute spending spree accounted for almost half of the more than $2.2 million in independent expenditures made by outside groups during the hotly contested special election.

Millions of dollars came into play because both sides saw it as an opportunity to turn the 8th District election into a referendum on national issues and not just a race to decide who would finish Giffords’ term.

“People were imputing larger issues,” said Michael J. O’Neil, a Tempe-based pollster. He said the race wasn’t run on “anything at all about local issues.”

Campaign ads – which can still be seen on websites of the groups that sponsored them – touched on national health care, Medicare and Social Security.

The three biggest outside spenders in the election were the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC, which supports Democratic candidates. Other players included the Arizona Republican Party and American Crossroads, a conservative-leaning committee.

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Special elections typically do not attract outside money in the millions, said Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State’s office. But when big spenders start dumping millions into local elections, they have a big impact, he said.

Under federal campaign law, outside groups can spend unlimited amounts on a race as long as they do not coordinate that spending with the candidate who benefits from the group’s support, or its attacks on his opponent.

In the 8th District race, those groups ultimately spent $1.3 million to the benefit of Kelly and $920,000 to the benefit of Barber.

The CD8 election was already a high-profile race because of the headlines surrounding the 2011 shooting of Giffords, her struggle to recover and emotional resignation of her seat.

But it gained added importance to the national parties after Wisconsin voters rejected a recall of Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a highly partisan campaign just two weeks before the Southern Arizona vote.

If Kelly had won in Arizona just two week after Walker’s win in Wisconsin, Republicans would have gained a “pretty good narrative” on the issues, O’Neil said. But it was basically a “split decision,” so neither side could claim a consistent theme, he said.

Just weeks after his special election win, Barber is already immersed in another competitive race, this time to retain his seat, O’Neil said.

Incumbency is expected to be of little value to Barber, who has only been in the job a short time and will be running in the new redrawn 2nd District.

Barber faces a primary challenge from state Rep. Matt Heinz, a medical doctor. On the GOP side, likely primary winner Martha McSally, who lost to Kelly in the special election cycle, faces political novice Mark Koskiniemi.

The DCCC has already reserved $2.33 million of ad time in Arizona for the November elections, according to a report by Roll Call, but it is not clear how much of that, if any, will be spent on District 2.

The NRCC has not disclosed its spending plans for Arizona, but CD2 is on its radar, said a spokesman.

“It’s a district that has always been competitive and that remains competitive,” said NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.

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3 comments on this story

Jul 23, 2012, 1:51 pm
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@Dylan Smith

Not necessarily saying that outside money is bad. Well, it is, of course, but the unfortunate reality of modern politics is that there’s no getting around it. The Kelly-backing dollars you reference were spent MUCH more responsibly…or as responsibly as any political contribution can be spent, anyway. The money coming in for Barber was coming in for one of two reasons…either to disparage Kelly, or with the intent to elect Giffords in Burl Ives’ body, another rubber-stamp vote for all those who want our borders wide open and thinks the government should be all things to all people.

You know I don’t do partisan politics. That said, my guess is the repubs thought they had to pump more money in because they know this electorate…most of them just look for the “D” and fill in the circle. Attempting to overcome such stupidity in an electorate is difficult and expensive, and as we just saw, futile.

I will say that, I myself being an informed voter and resident of CD8…I’m not going to say I saw no mudslinging from the Kelly camp. But, what I did see was minor (especially in comparison to that of the Barber campaign), and well within the levels of comparable campaigns in other races. With mudslinging, Barber went WAY over the top of what could reasonably be called acceptable or tolerable. The “Giffords is no hero” commercial? Come on…the Kelly camp attempted nothing so disgusting, or even close to that.

I’m not siding with a particular party, but I am siding with a particular candidate. The wrong guy was elected, and for all the wrong reasons.

Jul 23, 2012, 1:31 pm
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@Bret Linden

If outside money is bad, how do you defend/explain the fact that outside groups spent over 30 percent more - $1.3 million compared to $900k - backing Kelly?

Jul 23, 2012, 10:41 am
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National groups spent $517,570.06 in ads attacking Republican hopeful Jesse Kelly between May 24 and the special election on June 12, according to FEC reports filed last week.

Those drinking the Giffords/Barber Kool-aid should pause for a moment and ask why there were elements who felt it necessary to spend this sort of money to attack and slander Kelly. This is more money than the average “Middle Class” that Barber pledged to protect (though he never told us from what or how) would earn in a decade.

...the race wasn’t run on “anything at all about local issues.”

Very true. Kelly campaigned on national issues, and Barber campaigned on smearing Kelly.

To be clear, it’s not the fact that Barber won that upsets me so much (though I do think Kelly would have been better for the job)...it’s how he won. He based his entire campaign on smearing Kelly, and took out Giffords and used her for a puppet and a shill like so many others have since she was shot. Worse than all of that… the idiots in CD8 allowed it to be successful. This special election was more like special education.

It really was the political process at its absolute worst. All the wrong things happened, and for the wrong reasons. Barber, those who worked on his campaign, and all those who voted for him should all be ashamed of themselves.

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Click image to enlarge

graphic by Chistopher Leone/Cronkite News Service

Of the $2.2 million in independent expenditures made by outside groups in the District 8 race, almost half came in the three weeks leading up to the June 12 election, according to the Federal Election Commission.

CD8 flush with independent money

Independent expenditures by outside groups during the special election to succeed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona's 8th District:

  • American Action Network Inc.: $80,916
  • American Crossroads: $198,504
  • Arizona Republican Party: $128,167
  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: $459,580
  • Freedomworks for America: $30,000
  • House Majority PAC: $461,563
  • National Republican Congressional Committee: $878,481
  • TOTAL: $2,235,210