McSally exaggerates campaign fundraising haul
Still leads despite $36k overstatement
Despite raking in the most campaign cash among Arizona's congressional delegation thus far this year, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally recently overstated her fundraising by about $36,000. She touted having pulled in $640,000, but a chunk of that take was actually a refund paid back to the campaign by a D.C. ad agency.
Trumpeting the congresswoman as having raised "over $640,000 in the first quarter of 2015," spokesman Patrick Ptak called the sum an "impressive early total" in an April 11 press release.
McSally had been in office only 96 days at that point, Ptak said, and had more than $800,000 cash on hand.
Ptak, doing double duty as McSally's campaign and congressional office spokesman, said the fundraising effort "puts her in a commanding position against any potential challenger."
While McSally has a solid lead among all of Arizona's members of Congress for the first three months of 2015, her actual total fell short of her campaign's claims.
Included in the $643,576 in receipts tallied in her latest campaign finance report are refunds for more than $36,000 — money already reported as raised previously and returned from vendors.
Two refunds are itemized: $35,000 paid back to McSally for Congress from Smart Media Group, a political advertising firm in Alexandria, Va., and $1,020 from The Congressional Institute, a D.C.-area conference center.
That puts McSally's true fundraising take for January-March at just over $607,000 — still substantially more than U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, who came in a distant second, raising $446,736 in the quarter and reporting $580,269 in the bank at the end of March.
McSally was the only member of the delegation to report a large refund on her filings with the Federal Election Commission. Sinema reported $224 paid back to her campaign, while U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick reported $46 repaid.
The rest of Arizona's members of Congress reported $0 in refunds and rebates included in their 2015 fundraising.
McSally's staff did not respond to requests for comment on her fundraising claims.
Even without the exaggeration (the congresswoman's staff might want to do a bit a division next time. If you do the math on how much they claimed she pulled in daily — $640,000/96 — it takes eight decimal places to stop repeating the number of the beast), McSally's made an impressive effort at pulling in campaign cash.
Experts said it is unusual for a freshman to raise that much in the first quarter of an election cycle. But they said that McSally, who raised close to $4.9 million to win a razor-thin victory over incumbent Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, is likely heavily raising campaign funds to ward off any potential challengers in 2016.
"McSally knows they're (Democrats) coming after her and it's wise to raise as much money as she can early on. It might dissuade others from running against her," said Stu Rothenberg, a political analyst and columnist for Roll Call.
"It shows that incumbents like her are well aware of their elections coming up around the corner and want to start preparing early to fend off challengers," Rothenberg said.
At least one challenger has already decided not to run: Barber said earlier this month that he would not run again in 2016. Barber barely beat McSally in 2012 and lost a rematch to her in 2014 by the thinnest of margins, with just 167 ballots separating the two out of almost 220,000 votes cast.
No matter how you total it, McSally's fundraising led all members of the Arizona congressional delegation in terms of money raised in the quarter and cash on hand, according to the latest reports filed with the FEC.
McSally held her first public fundraiser of the year in February, just over a month into her first term as a member of Congress.
"She's proving she knows exactly what needs to be done to stay in Congress," said Sean Noble, president of DC London, an Arizona-based Republican consulting firm.
Noble said he thinks it unlikely Democrats will recapture the district now that Barber has pulled out, and that McSally is likely to be in Congress "for a while."
But Democrats are busy identifying potential challengers, party sources have said.
While Barber has bowed out, state Rep. Bruce Wheeler had already formed an exploratory committee. Another possible Democratic candidate, Matt Heinz, lost to Barber in the August 2012 primary, after dropping out of the spring primary to clear the way for Barber's win in the special election.
Heinz hasn't said definitively if he's in or out of the race, but another potential candidate whose name has long been floated as a congressional contender said he won't seek the seat.
State Sen. Steve Farley said earlier this month that Congress is "a horrible mess that I don't want to be a part of ... reading from someone else's script nationally."
The names of state Sen. David Bradley and state Rep. Victoria Steele have been floated as possibilities— as has Nan Walden, who's often rumored as a candidate for U.S. House or Senate but who hasn't ever run, despite her Washington experience.
Sources said that both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Emily's List had canvassed the field for potential female Democratic candidates, but weren't yet prepared to throw their backing behind anyone. Barber still has more than $200,000 in his campaign account — funds he could transfer to other candidates.
Regardless of who their contenders are, Democratic operatives have said the party will run hard against McSally.
"None of this speculation (about candidates) means anything if we don't know the playing field," Heinz said.
According to several sources at the Legislature, state House Speaker David Gowan is pushing a plan that would redraw the Southeastern Arizona district to make it more Republican — giving the Sierra Vista conservative a shot at challenging McSally in a primary.
About 35 percent of McSally's warchest came from political action committees, with more than half coming from individuals. Among higher-profile donors to her campaign were Raytheon, Pinnacle West Capital, the National Rifle Association and PACs affiliated with House Speaker John Boehner and U.S. Sen. John McCain.
McCain's PAC donated $5,000 to McSally and to every other Republican House member from Arizona except U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa.
Cronkite News reporter Nihal Krishan contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.