The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is running a series of television ads featuring Allister Adel as she heads into her first election since her appointment as county attorney, and Democrats are accusing her of using the ads to promote her candidacy at the taxpayers’ expense.
In one of the ads, which is scheduled to run through December, Adel speaks about her children and talks about her office’s commitment to protecting families.
“I’m a mom of two young boys, and like many of my colleagues in the county attorney’s office, as parents, we fight hard to seek justice for victims of crimes every day. Being on the front lines gives our office a unique perspective on how to keep families safe and secure while holding criminals accountable,” Adel says in one of the ads.
Two other ads, which focus on domestic violence and the danger of leaving children and pets in hot vehicles, also feature Adel. All three ads conclude with Adel urging people to visit the county attorney’s website.
Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the county attorney’s office, said the ads are part of the office’s Keeping Families Safe campaign. Keeping Families Safe is a digital campaign, Liewer said, but Cox Communications included the production and airtime for the television ads as an “added value” service, free of charge to the county attorney’s office. The ads air in time the Cox reserves for public service announcements and Cox produced the ads in-house, she said.
Liewer defended Adel’s appearance in the ad, saying it’s unrelated to her campaign and not intended to help with her election.
“When you’re producing something, you want to do something meaningful, so it was important to have a person who could relate to people on screen talking about it and encouraging them to get information,” Liewer said.
The free airtime for the ads includes 50 airings per month, from June through December. Liewer said the generic ad and the vehicular heat stroke ad are in that slot now. In October, which is domestic violence awareness month, MCAO will begin airing an ad focused on domestic violence.
Getting information out to the public has been a priority of Adel’s since she took office in October, Liewer said. The digital campaign focuses on a dozen or so issues, including youth vaping and online scams, but Liewer said it wasn’t feasible to produce ads about each issue. So in addition to the two issue-specific ads, MCAO also included a “generic ad” about the campaign that urges people to visit the county attorney’s website.
The digital ads that are part of the Keeping Families Safe campaign do not include Adel’s image.
Liewer compared the ads to recent public service announcement campaigns by Maricopa County Environmental Services and Chandler Unified School District, both of which she said were through Cox Communications.
According to an outline Adel’s office provided to the Arizona Mirror, the digital campaign cost the county attorney’s office $80,000, but with the free additions provided by Cox, has a total value of $195,000.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Adel in October after Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her predecessor, Bill Montgomery, to the Arizona Supreme Court. Three Democrats – Julie Gunnigle, Will Knight and Bob McWhirter – are vying to challenge her in November.
Historically, countywide races are rarely competitive in Maricopa County, which usually skews heavily Republican. But Democrats won the races for sheriff and county recorder in 2016, the first Democrats to win countywide positions since 1988, and Maricopa County is increasingly viewed as a battleground.
The Maricopa County Democratic Party accused Adel of using her office to promote her candidacy.
“Besides a link to the Attorney’s website at the end, the ad’s sole purpose is to promote Adel’s name,” Alejandro Larios, the party’s second vice chair, said in an email.
According to Adel’s most recent campaign finance report, which covers the first three months of 2020, she has raised a total of $202,000 and has about $99,000 on hand. Her campaign hasn’t yet run any television ads. A spokeswoman for the campaign said it had no involvement or input in MCAO’s television commercials.
Adel isn’t the first Maricopa County attorney to face criticism for including herself in promotional materials for the office during an election year. In early 2008, a crime prevention manual that the office placed in Phoenix-area newspapers featured then-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas’s name on the cover and his photo on the first page. Thomas had previously featured his name prominently on public service announcements and billboards.