The Arizona Republican Party’s fundraising efforts so far this year have been dismal, with Democrats outpacing them seven to one, leaving political operatives wondering if the party’s new chairman can right the ship in time to mount any sort of meaningful campaign in 2024.
The party took in only $165,293 in contributions so far in 2023, as compared to the Arizona Democratic Party’s more than $1.15 million. While in recent years, the state Democratic Party has always taken in a larger amount of individual contributions than the Republican Party, the GOP is struggling even more than usual to garner funding this year.
And the state Republican Party’s federal account, which is vital to fund operations during a presidential election year, was in a sad state as of the end of June, with less than $24,000 in cash on hand, compared to the state Democratic Party’s nearly $714,000.
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Because of campaign finance laws, the parties must operate separate accounts for money spent to help elect federal candidates and funds used to bolster state and local hopefuls.
Comparatively, at the end of June 2019, at the same point in the campaign cycle heading into the 2020 presidential election, the state Republican Party had taken in a total of $352,380 in contributions to its state and federal accounts, more than twice as much as it’s raised so far this year, and had nearly $76,000 in cash in its federal account, three times as it had on hand at the end of June.
“If this were me, I would be sweating a little bit,” Robert Graham, a former Arizona Republican Party chairman, told the Arizona Mirror.
Graham chaired the party from 2013 to 2017, during which time the party experienced fundraising success.
Former party chairman Kelli Ward’s extravagant spending and far-right fringe politics have left some big donors hesitant to give, Graham said, as they wait to determine if they can trust new chairman Jeff DeWit, a former state treasurer and aide to Donald Trump. DeWit was elected in January to lead the party for two years.
“Kelli Ward left a radioactive wake,” Graham said, adding that he worked with Republican chairs in all 50 states during his time helming the state party. “I’ve never seen anybody like this. The self-dealing, the self-promoting, the just crazy bombastic promises she made were just crazy.”
Some big Republican funders stopped writing checks to the Republican Party’s federal campaign account while Ward was heading the party and have yet to resume donating, he said. In Graham’s view, some stopped contributing because Ward’s politics were too far removed from their own, as the donor class tends to be more moderate than the party as a whole.
But some just didn’t appreciate what they saw as reckless spending on things that didn’t push candidates toward a win, he added.
Ward, who chaired the state GOP for four years beginning in January 2019, was part of the group of fake electors from Arizona that hoped to overturn former President Donald Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden in 2020. She bought into election conspiracy theories and spent more than $500,000 on an election night party and statewide bus tour in 2022, angering fellow Republicans who would have rather seen that money used to help GOP candidates locked in tight races.
Statewide, in 2022, Republicans suffered losses in the race for governor, secretary of state and attorney general and failed to retake the U.S. Senate seat that Democrat Mark Kelly won in a special election in 2020.
Jeff DeWit just seems to be allergic to raising money.
– DJ Quinlan, a former executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party
In a lengthy statement provided to the Mirror, Ward said that when she was chair, the party always took in enough revenue to cover its expenses and that her team left enough money in the bank for DeWit to pay for three months worth of operating expenses.
“The bottom line is that I should never be held responsible for what is currently being done,” Ward said. “And, honestly, it’s kind of offensive. I did the job I was elected to do and did it well, despite many obstacles put in my way by people who are supposed to be on my side. I’m not surprised that’s the narrative from people who are against what I stand for, but it isn’t justified.”
Ward added that the pricey election night party came at the request of the campaign team for failed Republican candidate for governor, Kari Lake.
Even though fundraising dropped off under her leadership and Republicans suffered repeated losses, former Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director DJ Quinlan gave Ward some credit for her efforts.
“Kelli, for all you can say about her, she was trying to raise money from (the) grassroots,” Quinlan told the Mirror. “Jeff (DeWit) just seems to be allergic to raising money.”
DeWit and the Arizona Republican Party did not respond to multiple interview requests for this story.
A poor financial footing now could have huge consequences heading into next year. Quinlan said state parties need to be ramping up their operations and building their federal bank accounts if they want to put forth a robust campaigning effort in 2024.
A monthly payroll for a coordinated door-knocking and phone-calling campaign for a state party might have a payroll of $250,000 or more, so with so little in cash on hand at the moment, Quinlan said the AZGOP was “basically broke.”
“Functionally, they’re running an operation right now that wouldn’t be capable of running one Dairy Queen franchise, much less a state operation to hopefully elect a senator or a president,” Quinlan said.
Graham said he’d recently visited the Arizona GOP’s new headquarters in uptown Phoenix and it seemed the party was readying to ramp up operations.
In June, the party purchased the new headquarters on the third floor of an office building at 3033 N. Central Ave. for $1.9 million. It used around $592,000 of the $789,000 sale of its old, dilapidated building at 24th Street and Osborn Road to purchase the new headquarters, according to campaign finance records. Between the 2022 sale of the old building and the purchase of the new space, the party rented space in an office building in north Scottsdale for its headquarters.
DeWit said in June that the Scottsdale location was too small and too far away from the state Capitol.
Graham said that with 12,000 square feet of room, the party will no longer have to rent out additional space for its call banking efforts as it did when he was chair and the party operated out of its longtime home, a small office building on 24th Street near Osborn Road. He said the new headquarters was furnished and it seemed like big capital expenditures were out of the way.
“My feelings are, they’re getting the infrastructure in place to make it happen,” he said. But he added that he doesn’t know exactly what the party’s plans are for when and how to ramp up fundraising efforts.
Graham seemed cautiously optimistic about the party’s chances to turn things around, especially if DeWit is able to engage donors in the next couple of months when people with the wealth to make political contributions return to the Valley after escaping to cooler climates for the summer. Now is the time that DeWit must show deep-pocketed Republicans that he has a good plan in place, Graham said.
If this were me, I would be sweating a little bit.
– Robert Graham, former Arizona Republican Party chairman
But Quinlan was more pessimistic about the Arizona Republican Party’s ability to conduct any kind of meaningful operation next year, with fundraising so abysmal as of the end of June.
“I would be shocked, I think, just given where they are right now, if this time next year they’re running any sort of impactful campaign or effort out of the state Republican Party,” he said. “And that just means that any operation that’s built outside (the party structure) is going to be much less efficient and much less effective.”
State parties commonly work with national parties and committees to conduct coordinated campaigns during big election years. When that happens, those committees typically transfer large amounts of money to the state parties to fund those efforts.
But if the national committees don’t trust a state party, they might wait to hand over any money until their leaders understand the state party’s plan, or they might bypass the state party altogether to team up with an outside entity or a county party.
At this point in 2019, the Arizona Republican Party had received $176,134 from party committees in its state and federal accounts, compared to this year, when it has only gotten a measly $7,371.
In an example of a national committee partnering with a county instead of the state Republican Party, last year the Republican Governors Association opted not to work with the AZGOP in its support of the Lake campaign. Instead, the group, which was helmed by then-Gov. Doug Ducey, coordinated its support of Lake with the Yuma County Republican Party.
J.P. Twist, who was the political director for the RGA during the 2022 election, said in a post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, that the association decided not to work with the state Republican Party because he couldn’t trust the party to spend the money wisely.
It’s yet to be seen if the national committees will at some point team up with the AZGOP, but if they don’t, they’ll face an uphill battle when it comes to getting the necessary infrastructure in place to mount a good campaign, Quinlan said.
“It’s very inefficient to try to create that machine elsewhere,” he said. “I think it always leads to a much less effective campaign. It’s a big deal, because you’re talking about folks who are going to make hundreds of thousands of door knocks, millions of phone calls. It’s the sort of outreach that is necessary. It’s mostly about mobilizing your voters and to some extent it’s also about reaching swing voters.”
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