Friday, December 12, 2014

Gov. Brewer's Super PACs: Retirement Fund, 2016 Run Against McCain, Or Just "Stay Active" Money? (FOLLOWING MONEY IN ARIZONA'S POLITCS)

Outgoing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her state Super PAC were very active in statewide and legislative races this year, but she stood on the sidelines in the three hotly-contested Arizona Congressional races. Brewer now controls a $326K checking account that she could use to jumpstart a 2016 Senate or Congressional run, or to travel the nation in comfort and support like-minded candidates.

Or, she could put it in her personal bank account and ride off into the sunset.

The Governor created Jan PAC in 2011 in the wake of signing SB1070, and has collected more than $1.3M from contributors, including from companies doing business with the state and from wealthy individuals who agreed with her political philosophy.  She spent a good chunk of that helping Arizona Republican Congressional candidates in 2012 (and even a couple of out-of-state races), but continued to raise money through the first part of August. (The last sizable contribution was $25,000 from Tenet Health on August 7.)

Certainly, many - if not most - of those generous contributors expected the Governor to use the money and her political muscle in the tight 2014 races.  Two of the Arizona seats targeted by Republicans were lost and the third is in post-election recounting.

She spent zero on federal races in 2014. The reasons why she did not spend the money are currently unknown.  No political consultants acknowledge working with the Governor on Jan PAC, and the Governor's staff has repeatedly declined to answer Arizona's Politics' inquiries.

Here is a closer look at the three options listed at the beginning of this article:

1) Jumpstart a 2016 Senate or Congressional run (the McCain scenario):  While the outgoing Governor has shown little or no interest in any further runs for office, others have been.  Earlier this year, a Citizens United-commissioned poll found her to be the strongest candidate to take on Sen. John McCain in a 2016 primary battle.  (She polled better than either Rep. Matt Salmon or Rep. David Schweikert.)  Similarly, she could be seen as a strong challenge to either Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick or Kyrsten Sinema, or as a successor to Salmon or Schweikert if either moved to take on McCain.

Arizona pollster Mike O'Neill tells Arizona's Politics that "the odds are against it" and that it is "unlikely" that she would  challenge a sitting Congressperson.  "She's bought the option to spend it as she sees fit in the future.

2) Stay active and travel the nation in comfort (the Palin scenario):  Just as former Alaska Governor (and McCain VP running mate, and parttime Arizona resident) Sarah Palin has done, Governor Brewer could use the money to travel the nation in first class comfort... and generate further speaking fees and book sales.  Governor Brewer has shown some interest in this option.

3) Pocket the money, and fund her retirement (the every old-time politician scenario): This cannot be an option, you ask it. Can it?  Well, while state and federal laws have tightened up on this kind of old school personally-enriching politics, the world of independent expenditure committees and Super PACs has become a world of its own.

Brewer's state level IE Committee, Arizona's Legacy, now has only $57,136.01 left in it.  And, based on Arizona statutes - which are currently in limbo land, but that's another story - she could NOT transfer that to the Jan Brewer IRA.

And, IF she had been a federal candidate, Jan PAC would be constrained in her options.  For example, retired U.S. Senator from Arizona Jon Kyl transferred his campaign funds to his leadership PAC, which currently has $242,000 in it; he is spending it down on other campaigns and groups*, but could not use it for retirement.

The Stephen Colbert scenario comes to mind.  The social satirist (and soon-to-be late night host) has devoted time and money to exploring what can be done with Super PACs.  (He received a Peabody Award for the Super PAC series of reports.) He raised more than $1,000,000 for "Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow", and later transferred the remaining balance to a newly-formed non-profit that he just happened to find himself on the Board of Directors of.

Now, that non-profit did, in fact, donate the money to legitimate, non-connected charitable organizations.  BUT, in fact, he could have retained full control over it.

In fact, Arizona's Politics found a Federal Election Commission Advisory Opinion from 1991 (see, below) that would have permitted Colbert to keep the money for personal use.  In the Alliance for Representative Government AO, a California politician was permitted to receive the $30-35,000 in excess funds from his federal committee to support federal candidates. (Advisory Opinion is republished below.) The regulations cited in that opinion have not been changed to include Super PACs.

Arizona's Politics asked Colbert attorney Trevor Potter (a well-known and well-respected campaign finance expert) whether Brewer could follow Colbert's example, join his non-profit Board, or take similar steps (including personal use).  Is it really that wide open?

His response? "You are right- few restrictions on SuperPacs still."

(Efforts to obtain comment from Colbert were as unsuccessful as from Brewer, so maybe they are planning something together. ;-) )

4) Other ideas: Of course, she can return the funds to contributors.  She could start a (legit) charitable organization or fund an existing one(s).

Whatever Gov. Brewer does with the $326,332.16, Arizona's Politics will be there to report on it.

(Tempe election law attorney Paul Weich contributed to this article.)

* After the November 4 election, Kyl's Senate Majority Fund did transfer $10,000 to Prosper.  Kyl is a key "mentor" to incoming Governor Doug Ducey, and Prosper was created and is led by Ducey's Chief of Staff-to-be Kirk Adams.

We welcome your comments about this post. Or, if you have something unrelated on your mind, please e-mail to info-at-arizonaspolitics-dot-com or call 602-799-7025. Thanks.

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