Memo: Conventional wisdom about Russell Pearce’s recall election off the mark

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To: Interested Reporters

From: David Donnelly, director of Public Campaign Action Fund’s Campaign Money Watch project

Date: Monday, November 7, 2011

RE: Conventional wisdom about Russell Pearce’s recall election off the mark

Recent news coverage unconvincingly argues the recall election of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce revolves around Pearce’s controversial drafting of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law (SB 1070). But for those who have followed the race dynamics closely, the issue itself did not play out as a major feature of the recall election for those voters who were uncertain about Pearce’s tenure in office. Certainly Pearce’s past stance on immigration was – and is – a defining factor for his recall. Many voters in his district and throughout Arizona have developed strong opinions about the issue and Pearce. And it can be argued that those who strongly oppose or support Pearce on immigration are likely to strongly oppose or support Pearce on Tuesday.

That leaves a sizeable swing electorate. And these voters not already in Pearce’s camp have received a steady stream of information about Pearce in this race, and it’s not immigration that they’ve heard about. They’ve heard about Pearce’s corruption, his ties to special interest lobbyists, his Fiesta bowl scandal, and his opposition to Arizona’s popular Clean Elections program.

Campaign Money Watch is in a unique position to challenge this emerging conventional wisdom before it sets in. As the group that spent more than twice any other independent expenditure campaign, we know what swing voters received as a message. What they’ll decide on when they cast their ballots tomorrow is whether they want to send Pearce back to the state legislature to continue his corrupt ways.

Fact 1: Russell Pearce may have gained celebrity for his anti-immigrant positions, but it is his ties to lobbyists and special interests, the Fiesta Bowl corruption scandal and his opposition to Clean Elections that are at the center of the recall election in his Mesa district.

  • Sen. Russell Pearce was at the center of the blockbuster Fiesta Bowl scandal that included allegations of illegal straw man donations, free (unreported) tickets and luxury hotel stays for college football games, and blatant influence peddling.
  • Pearce’s opponent, Jerry Lewis, has made a gift ban a major part of his platform. As the Arizona Capitol Times reported when Lewis released an ad featuring the gift ban, “The swipe is apparently referring to Pearce's involvement in the Fiesta Bowl scandal in which he and other lawmakers were lavished with tickets and junkets to promote the bowl.”
  • It’s clear that Pearce recognized his liability on this issue. In emails to supporters and a television ad, Pearce attacked “outside groups” financing voter education efforts. That directly references a story from the Arizona Capitol Times about Campaign Money Watch’s efforts that lists our parent group’s previous funders.

Fact 2. Campaign Money Watch has spent $47,000 communicating to targeted voters in the district. Our communications were not about Pearce’s anti-immigrant positions. We educated voters about his involvement with the Fiesta Bowl scandal, ties to special interests, and his opposition to Clean Elections.

  • PCAF’s Campaign Money Watch project spent over $47,000 on direct mail pieces that reached about a majority of the voters who are likely to cast a vote in the recall election. We were the largest independent expenditure in the campaign after the recall race began. The pieces focused on Pearce’s corruption, ties to lobbyists, and opposition to Clean Elections with language like this:
    • “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Russell Pearce and the special interests have a great relationship.”
    • “After receiving thousands of dollars in tainted campaign contributions, it’s no wonder Russell Pearce wants to gut campaign reform laws. He’s leading the efforts to repeal Arizona’s Clean Elections Law and would allow corporations, special interests, and lobbyists to dominate state politics.”
  • A television ad from the anti-Pearce group, Citizens United for Progress, begins with, “Russell Pearce kept his word. Yeah, to fat cat lobbyists, but not to us.” The Fiesta Bowl logo and piles of cash appear on the screen.
  • Pearce opponent Jerry Lewis has presented a positive case for cleaning up government. In an ad for his campaign, Lewis states, “I won’t take any special political perks and I pledge to sponsor a ban on all gifts from lobbyists and special interest groups.” That directly references Pearce, who had no issues with accepting those perks.


It makes for a good national story on immigration to note that an anti-immigrant politician in Arizona is getting recalled. And certainly that’s one way to tell the impact of this recall. But the real reason voters in this conservative Republican district have turned against Pearce is his arrogance and his connections to lobbyists. That’s what’s before voters who live in the district.