WASHINGTON — Conservative donors are swooping in to support embattled Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert, whose campaign account was in the red at the end of the last reporting period.
The Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group in Washington, D.C., has funneled roughly $84,000 in earmarked contributions this year to the five-term lawmaker, according to the most recent campaign finance reports released in October. The group allows donors to give to candidates’ campaigns through its website.
Schweikert is under investigation for allegedly misusing congressional office funds, pressuring congressional staff to perform political activities, failing to properly disclose campaign finance information and other violations of House rules.
He has said he expects to be cleared of wrongdoing.
The matter is still under review by the House Ethics Committee, but the Club for Growth, a longtime ally of Schweikert, didn’t wait for the investigation to wrap up before throwing its support behind the GOP lawmaker.
“We believe that he will be cleared in the investigation and look forward to supporting his campaign,” David McIntosh, president of the group’s political action committee (PAC), told the Mirror in a statement.
Schweikert, one of ten candidates endorsed by the club’s PAC, is in vital need of support in 2020, according to the club. He “has consistently voted for legislation to grow Arizona jobs and the economy since he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, and we are proud to endorse him again in 2020,” McIntosh said.
Schweikert’s fellow Republicans in the U.S. House are also rallying around him.
He picked up campaign cash from accounts affiliated with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and GOP Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and Kevin Brady of Texas.
And he’s received money earmarked through the House Freedom Fund, a PAC affiliated with a conservative group of House lawmakers known as the House Freedom Caucus, which is led by Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs.
Schweikert may need the cash more than ever as he faces mounting legal fees and as he attempts to fend off emboldened Democrats, who see new opportunity to pick up his seat in 2020.
“I think everybody understands how devastatingly expensive the whole process is,” Schweikert told the Mirror in an interview this week, referring to the investigation. There’s “some empathy there,” he said.
But being on the receiving end of financial largesse is odd, he said. “We’ve been so strong in our district in the past … that we’ve never focused on raising money. We didn’t have to. Much of the money we’ve raised we used to help other people.”
Now, he said, some of the people he’s helped in the past are turning around and helping him.
‘Wind and fury’
Schweikert has cruised to reelection since first winning office in 2010, and his Scottsdale-based district has backed GOP presidential nominees in recent elections.
But his margin of victory was smaller last year than in 2016, and national political observers suggest the race could be competitive in 2020.
Indeed, President Donald Trump won the district by a smaller margin — 10 points — than Mitt Romney and John McCain did in their races for the White House. The presidential race is expected to be competitive next year, especially in light of Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s 2018 victory.
Democrats also see an opening now that Schweikert has come under the investigative microscope.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the House Democrats’ campaign arm — lists Schweikert as one of 39 Republicans it is targeting this year. The group also placed him on its “retirement watch list” — even though the 57-year-old has not given any indication he intends to step down from office.
Several Democrats, meanwhile, have jumped into the race to take him on next fall.
Physician Hiral Tipirneni, who lost to Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko in the neighboring 8th Congressional District in 2018, posted the strongest showing of the group. She has raised about $773,000 so far this year and has more than $600,000 in the bank, according to her most recent campaign finance report.
That puts her ahead of Schweikert — an unusual position for a House challenger.
Since the beginning of the year, Schweikert has raised about $622,000, according to FEC reports through the end of September. About half of that, $308,000, was from individual contributors, while the rest was from contributions and transfers from other committees.
But he has already spent more than $522,000, much of which, about $364,000, went to legal fees, according to a review of FEC data. That has left him with less than $144,000 in the bank as of September 30 and about $187,000 in debt.
The Office of Congressional Ethics — a nonpartisan entity that reviews allegations of misconduct and refers them to the House Ethics Committee — found “substantial reason” to believe that Schweikert may have violated House rules, standards of conduct and federal law, according to a 2018 report that was made public in September.
The House ethics panel has not said when it will complete its investigation. But as long as it continues, it will be a “serious drain” on his resources, a Democratic strategist predicted.
Schweikert told the Mirror he should have taken third-quarter fundraising “much more seriously” and anticipated posting a stronger fourth-quarter fundraising finish to the year.
Democrat Stephanie Rimmer, a small business owner, raised $143,000 so far this year in her bid for her party’s nod. And Democrat Anita Malik, who lost to Schweikert last year, has raised nearly $100,000.
Arizona’s early August primary comes late in the election season, about 13 weeks before Election Day in November.
Schweikert remains confident about his chances against the Democratic nominee despite the ethical cloud hanging over his head, pointing to an “overwhelming” registration advantage in the traditionally red congressional district, which primarily encompasses northern Phoenix and Scottsdale, and the likelihood of high voter turnout in the upcoming presidential election.
There will be lots of fire, wind and fury leading up to Election Day, he said, but in the end, “the math is the math.”