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Local Democrats allege McSally campaign finance violations

Claiming that U.S. Rep. Martha McSally has spent money polling for her looming U.S. Senate run, local Democrats have filed an FEC complaint alleging that the GOP congresswoman has violated campaign finance laws by not filing as a candidate.

McSally told her fellow Republicans last month behind closed doors that she intends to run for the Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, but has not made a public announcement of her plans.

Jo Holt, head of the Pima County Democratic Party, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, aruging that it is "inconceivable" that McSally has not spent more than $5,000 in seeking the Senate seat. The Democrats maintain that McSally "apparently" hired a polling firm to gauge her name recognition for a statewide race for the Senate.

The Democrats maintain that McSally's didn't file new campaign paperwork with the FEC indicating her plans to run for Senate before a 15-day deadline ran out.

A Politico report last month described the poll results from an 'internal polling memo" from McSally's campaign.

Federal law requires candidates to file organizational statements with the FEC within 15 days of raising $5,000 or spending that amount, the Democratic filing noted.

While the Democratic allegations lean heavily on words like "apparently" and "suggests" (and credit one of the news reports they cite to a Star photographer rather than the journalist who reported the story), McSally's campaigns have demonstrated difficulty with adhering to campaign laws in the past.

A 2015 investigation by TucsonSentinel.com showed that her campaign reports overstated her fundraising by nearly $3.3 million. That review also showed that McSally was failing to collect all of the information required for a majority of her itemized donors.

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That review later prompted a complaint to the FEC.

FEC staffers have repeatedly pointed to McSally's lax efforts to provide donor info, and she has often missed deadlines to correct her filings.

FEC staff are barred by law from commenting on open cases.

McSally and her staff have dodged questions from reporters about the Senate race.

Flake announced in October that he was walking away from a 2018 re-election bid, saying in a speech on the Senate floor that he “will not be complicit or silent” about the ongoing degradation of the political climate.

Flake, despite raising $4 million for his campaign by July, faced a stiff primary challenge from Tea Party favorite Kelli Ward, a former state legislator from western Arizona noted for her right-wing views. Ward, tagged with the nickname "Chemtrail Kelli" after holding a government hearing on the conspiracy fantasy about aircraft emissions, has been endorsed by former White House strategist Steve Bannon.

Complicating the political calculus in Arizona is the state of U.S. Sen. John McCain's health. He was diagnosed with a serious brain cancer last summer, and may be forced to resign. That would mean a brief appointment for a replacement, and an election next November to determine who would hold the seat through the balance of term, ending in 2022.

The second-term Tucson Republican narrowly won election in 2014, and prevailed again in 2016. She faces the potential of another bruising race in Arizona's CD 2, with a bevy of Democrats vying to challenge her.

Lea Marquez Peterson announced her run for Congress this week, with the Republican tossing her hat into a primary ring that's been all but vacated by McSally.

Peterson said she'll bow out of the race if McSally seeks re-election, but is assuming that the congresswoman will make a Senate run.

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On the Democratic side, a pack of candidates are vying to be the CD 2 finalist next November. Among them are Ann Kirkpatrick, the former CD 1 congresswoman who lost the U.S. Senate race to John McCain last year; former Assistant Army Secretary Mary Matiella; Matt Heinz, who lost to McSally in November 2016; political newcomer Billy Kovacs; and former state representative Bruce Wheeler.

FEC complaint

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

McSally in 2015.