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New group forms to challenge McSally as too partisan

By: - February 27, 2020 12:09 pm

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally speaks at President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Phoenix on Feb. 19, 2020. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A new “dark money” nonprofit is knocking U.S. Sen. Martha McSally for being too partisan and not standing up for the needs of Arizonans. 

The Western Independence Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, is co-chaired by former Attorney General Grant Woods – a one-time moderate Republican who became a Democrat in 2018 – and Democratic state legislators Rep. César Chávez and Sen. Rebecca Rios.

The group will fund advertising and digital messaging, as well as do grassroots organizing.

Western Independence Project’s mission is to hold elected officials in Arizona to “the standard for independent leadership” that was set by U.S. senators like John McCain, Barry Goldwater, Carl Hayden and Kyrsten Sinema, it said in a statement announcing its launch.

Sinema, a Democrat, defeated McSally in 2018. She campaigned as an independent who wouldn’t hew to political ideology. As a senator, she has crossed party lines to support President Donald Trump’s nominees and side with Republicans, moves that have angered many Democratic and progressive activists.

A recent analysis found that Sinema sponsors more conservative legislation than any other Democrat – and more than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McSally was appointed to fill out the remainder of McCain’s term and became a senator in January 2019.

But Western Independence Project says McSally hasn’t shown that same independence from her party, and has voted with McConnell 98% of the time since she was appointed to the Senate last year. 

“From voting to repeal protections on pre-existing conditions to raising the cost of health care, McSally has walked a partisan line in Washington,” the group said in a written statement.

Woods, who served as attorney general from 1991 until 1999, said McCain taught him the importance of breaking from the Republican Party in order to support policies important for all Arizonans.

“But Senator McSally doesn’t depart from party leadership and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. That’s why she’s voted to repeal protections for pre-existing conditions, to allow insurance companies to charge people over 50 five times more,” he said in a written statement. “Arizonans are calling on her to do better.”

Chávez said McSally lacks “the courage to take on powerful politicians and stand with their constituents … and that’s why she hasn’t even held a town hall in three years.”

“She needs to get out into Arizona and listen to what Arizonans need,” he added.

Groups like Western Independence Project are commonly referred to as “dark money” organizations because they are not required by federal tax or campaign finance laws to disclose who funds them.

Political consultant Joe Wolf, who will be managing the group’s activities, told Arizona Mirror that Western Independence Project will not disclose its donors voluntarily.

“This is an Arizona group run by Arizonans, as you can see from our board,” he said.

Woods is a proponent of an initiative that seeks to amend Arizona’s constitution to require disclosure of the “original sources” of virtually all political spending in Arizona elections. However, the disclosure requirement in the “Voters’ Right to Know Amendment” wouldn’t apply to spending that aims to influence federal elections, like the U.S. Senate. 

Woods told the Mirror that he doesn’t see a conflict between his support of the disclosure amendment and his work with Western Independence Project. For one, the constitutional amendment wouldn’t apply to federal campaign spending. And even if the amendment passes, it won’t be in effect for the 2020 election.

“I don’t think you can go in unarmed,” he said, adding that millions of dollars in “dark money” will be spent to boost McSally’s campaign.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include comments from Grant Woods.

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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. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.