Ads bashing Romero campaign over 'Trump tie' funded by connections of RNC's Bruce Ash
A usually minuscule independent committee is pushing the message that mayoral candidate Regina Romero is connected to President Donald Trump — with big funding from a close family member of Bruce Ash, himself a major Trump booster.
In a move to undermine Romero's support in the decisive Democratic primary this month, the Total N-Tegrity Committee has had ads circulating on social media, and in a video commercial released last week bashed Romero for picking as one of her co-chairs local businessman Cody Ritchie.
Ritchie, owner of Crest Insurance Group, was a maxed-out donor to Trump in 2016, donating $5,400 to his campaign. He also donated tens of thousands of dollars to other Republican candidates, and the national party.
But the funding for the "independent expenditure committee" effort to publicly tie the progressive Latina Democratic candidate to the rightwing president isn't coming from sources opposed to Trump. Instead, it bears the hallmarks of a close connection with the Republican president.
Total N-Tegrity, which started the year with less than $31 in the bank, received a pair of five-figure contributions in June to back its attacks on Romero. Those donations came from Trudy Connor, a retired real estate player whose former $8 million home in the Catalina Foothills was the most expensive ever sold here when she had it on the market in 2007, and Bridget Carnell Ash, another retired Tucsonan who now resides in California.
Ash was the second wife of the late Tucson real estate executive Paul Ash — the father of Bruce Ash, one of Arizona's members of the Republican National Committee, and a big public booster of Trump and his policies.
The independent committee, which files its campaign reports with state authorities rather than city election officials, received a $10,000 contribution from Connor, now a resident of Newport Coast, Calif., on June 1. Carnell Ash, who now lives in Encinitas, Calif., contributed $10,000 on June 14. The committee has had only a smattering of much smaller contributions from other donors this year.
Neither woman responded immediately to TucsonSentinel.com's requests for comment on the donations to the campaign against Romero. Bruce Ash likewise did not immediately respond, although he hasn't been shy in attacking Romero's campaign.
"Elect this radical and whatever is left of Tucson's greatness goes down the drain," he posted on Facebook earlier this year.
Ritchie said Thursday that the effort by those connected with the Republican Party to denigrate Romero over his donations to the president were "very hypocritical."
Ritchie said if in fact Bruce Ash is involved in the effort, "Bruce is a guy who likes to think that he plays in the major leagues, but this is a bush-league move," and suggested that Ash should resign his RNC seat.
Ritchie said Thursday that he's been a regular supporter of Republican presidential candidates, citing in particular his support of George W. Bush and John McCain, and noted that Marco Rubio "was my guy" in the primaries. He also pointed to contributions to local Democrats such as Councilman Paul Cunningham and County Attorney Barbara LaWall.
The local PAC run by Gonzales claimed in a video that Ritchie donated $10,800 to Trump's election drive. Federal campaign finance filings show that he only donated half that amount in 2016, with an over-the-limit contribution of $2,700 that was refunded.
The group has also sent out mailers accusing Romero of wasting taxpayer money.
Total N-Tegrity's last campaign filing was on July 14, covering a period through June 30. The committee may have received other donations since the beginning of July. Under state campaign finance laws, another filing by the committee is not due until October. A complaint has been filed with the Tucson City Clerk's Office over the committee not having filed disclosure statements regarding expenditures targeting specific candidates within 60 days of the election.
While Romero and Ritchie have defended their work on her campaign, saying they don't agree on Trump's policies but that the insurance company owner trusts the judgment of the Democratic candidate, her other campaign chief has drawn less notice. Romero's other campaign co-chair is environmentalist Carolyn Campbell, founder of the Green Party in Arizona.
Romero said Thursday that Trump-linked money being spent to attack her for supposed Trump connections is "all ironic."
Saying that her opponents are "hellbent on pushing conspiracy theories," Romero said that it's "outrageous and laughable that ... they're trying to insinuate that I have connections with Trump because of my intentions to work across the aisle."
"I'm the person who has vehemently opposed Trump and his policies," she said.
The independent expenditure committee, which is barred from coordinating its activities with any campaign, was set up in 2015 by Luis A. Gonzales, a longtime political opponent of U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva. Romero is married to Grijalva's district director, Ruben Reyes.
Gonzales, a former member of the Pima Community College Board of Governors, was involved in the unsuccessful 2011 primary challenge against Romero by payday loan operator Joe Flores.
Gonzales also could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the phone listed on the committee's filing denied being connected with it.
Ritchie noted Thursday that he was a volunteer on Gonzales' 1992 bid for the Board of Supervisors — in which Gonzales attempted to run against Grijalva, then a county supervisor, but was tossed off the ballot because he had turned in too many forged signatures on nominating petitions.
"It's disappointed to me that he's trying to paint me as something I'm not," Ritchie said.
A statement on IE committee's website reads that "Total N-Tegrity has concluded that Regina Romero's candidacy for mayor of Tucson would result in a disaster for the city of Tucson and its residents."
For her part, Romero has tagged one of her opponents, Steve Farley, as the "Jim Click candidate." The Tucson car dealer and Republican heavy hitter donated $500 to Farley's mayoral campaign.
The third Democrat in the primary, Randi Dorman, has managed to stay out of the fray of accusations of GOP connections, but been criticized for her business connections as a local Downtown developer.
No Republicans are running for mayor. An independent, ad executive Ed Ackerley, will appear on the November general election ballot, and Mike Cease, a Green Party candidate, is seeking to make it through to the November election by garnering enough write-in votes in his party's primary.