Since early this decade the Republican House and Senate caucuses have had an official fundraising committee to call their own. The House Victory PAC and the Senate Victory PAC were tasked with raising money and then spending it to protect and grow the Republican majorities and, from all accounts, they were largely successful.
But there is trouble brewing for the committees as House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann have established their own competing fund called the Republican Legislative Victory Fund. Bowers and Fann have also reportedly gone after the Victory PACs and ordered them shut down.
Republican legislators are unhappy at this power grab and its implications for the 2020 election and beyond. They compare it to former Senate President Steve Pierce’s efforts that purported to be in the interests of the Republican Senate Majority and ended up being a pro-Pierce PAC that spent on his friends and refused to help Republican candidates he did not believe to be supportive of him remaining President. Ironically, Pierce’s PAC played a very large role in him losing the Senate Presidency the very next cycle.
The Victory PACs were chaired by Warde Nichols, a former legislator turned lobbyist, and campaign finance reports show that the PACs relied largely on Grassroots Partners to conduct their expenditures in the 2014 and 2016 cycles. By 2018 the work had largely shifted to Trailhead Strategic in Scottsdale, Brandt Development in Tempe, and several other firms. Fundraising ballooned to nearly $500,000 and the PAC spent heavily to protect vulnerable incumbents, even as the Democrats made statewide gains and nearly flipped the State House.
Now, with 2020 looming and Democrats eager to take one more shot at a majority in both the State House and State Senate under the maps they helped draw, this is likely the worst possible time for discord on the Republican fundraising front. The silver lining to this power grab is that it appears to have the blessing and support of Governor Doug Ducey, who is featured prominently in the press release, and the PAC is going to be chaired by the very wealthy Karrin Taylor Robson, who is herself interested in running for Governor in 2022. Robson was appointed to the Arizona Board of Regents by Governor Ducey and is married to Ed Robson, a prominent and successful real estate developer. So the new PAC ought to be swimming in money in short order. Judging by the press release announcing the new PAC, they will be using Camelback Strategy as consultants, which employs former AZGOP Executive Directors Chad Heywood and Matt Kenney, and Jon Seaton, another McCain veteran who spent most of the 2018 cycle at the AZGOP headquarters.
While it is possible that all three groups will work together – the House Victory PAC reported nearly $100,000 in cash on hand at the end of September 2019 and the Senate Victory PAC reported nearly $35,000 in cash on hand for the same period – donors will be faced with the unpleasant prospect of either giving to the Caucus PACs and angering leadership, or giving to the leadership’s new PAC and finding themselves entangled in intra-party squabbles if the new PAC is simply an extension of Fann’s and Bowers’ continuing leadership ambitions or Robson’s gubernatorial plans.