Commentary

Special interests take note: There’s still time to curry legislative favor

May 3, 2019 11:28 am

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The clash over how the state will regulate the vaping industry is coming. Vape and tobacco companies are hoping lawmakers will bar cities and counties from imposing any regulations – even those that could limit youth vaping – while a competing measure backed by public health advocates, educators and cities would treat vape products the same as tobacco and allow for tighter local regulation.

I’m curious to see if the money that the vaping industry pumped into electing legislative Republicans last year will earn its proposal the support of enough Republicans to become law.

You see, vaping and tobacco companies gave more than $41,000 to a pair of political committees backed by House and Senate Republican leaders, enough to make them the fourth-largest industry supporting the committees.

The House Victory PAC and Senate Victory PAC are the political arms of the Republican legislative caucuses, and exist to spend heavily in support of GOP legislative candidates in elections. Last year, the two committees spent about $900,000 to help Republicans maintain their slim majorities in the legislature.

Tobacco company Altria, which had its own line of vaping products until it bought a major stake late last year in Juul, the vaping industry’s dominant brand, gave the House and Senate PACs a total of $36,250 for the 2018 campaign. Tobacco giant Reynolds American, which also sells vape products, chipped in another $5,000.

Reynolds American also used its own PAC to give $200 contributions to 14 incumbent legislators in 2018, only one of whom – District 27’s Rebecca Rios – was a Democrat. Of the 13 Republicans, 11 won their campaigns and are in the legislature today. The PAC gave another $2,000 to Gov. Doug Ducey’s PAC, the Arizona Leadership Fund, which gave thousands of dollars to Republican legislative candidates.

But more concerning than the money that was given for the 2018 election is the money that may well be given for the 2020 election as this legislative row over vaping is escalating. While state law doesn’t allow candidates to receive contributions directly from companies and lawmakers can’t accept money for their campaigns from lobbyists during a legislative session, neither of those prohibitions apply to PACs.

And it just so happens that the House and Senate PACs are hosting a fundraiser on May 14. The deep-pocketed Republicans, the lobbyists and the corporate interests on the invitation list are being asked to pony up anywhere between $1,000 for a single seat to $50,000 for 15 tickets and “top recognition.”

Make no mistake: that recognition is not just important, but it’s a selling point for why special interests should break out their checkbooks. “We want to make sure that we feature all the event’s sponsors so members (of the legislature) know who supports maintaining and growing their majority,” Tysen Schlink, a fundraising consultant and the executive director of the House and Senate PACs, wrote in an email to potential donors last week that was passed to me by a tipster.

If history is any indication, the bulk of the money to back 2020 GOP legislative candidates will be from corporate interests.

 

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There were seven donors that gave a total of at least $30,000 to the Republican PACs in 2017 and 2018. Six of those were from companies: $80,000 from Republican State Leadership Committee (which is also heavily funded by tobacco companies); $50,000 each from Pinnacle West, Turf Paradise and Basis charter schools; $40,000 from an educational services company owned by Damian Creamer, the owner of Primavera online charter school; and the $36,350 from Altria.

The only large donation from an individual was $50,000 from Glenn Way, who owns the American Leadership Academy charter schools.

As a whole, the charter school industry gave $150,000 to the effort to bankroll Republican legislative candidates – vastly more than any other special interest.

Given the demise in March of mild charter school reforms that were portrayed by legislative Republicans as being too restrictive, it’s safe to say they are aware that the charter school industry gave so selflessly last year to “support maintaining and growing” the GOP majority.

After all, biting the hand that feeds you isn’t smart politics.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.

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