WASHINGTON – Independent spending by political action committees has begun to flow into the Senate race between Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, and Democratic candidate Richard Carmona, just six weeks before Election Day.
Since the Aug. 28 primary, PACs spent more than $276,000 in support of Flake or in opposition to Carmona, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Independent expenditures supporting Carmona totaled $102.06 for the same period.
Most of the spending has come in the last 10 days, when FreedomWorks for America pumped more than $225,000 into the Arizona race. That spending was divided between support for Flake and opposition to Carmona.
Russ Walker, vice president of FreedomWorks’ political and grassroots campaigns, said he anticipated a “very heavy investment in the Flake campaign.”
“He’s probably one of our top three or four candidates in terms of priority,” Walker said.
Despite the recent surge in spending, independent expenditures in Arizona pale in comparison to battleground states, where spending by those groups has soared to millions of dollars per week.
“We’re planning on spending what we think is necessary to make sure Jeff wins,” Walker said, adding that “the investment may not be as high in terms of a dollar figure because it’s Arizona, not Florida.”
A spokesman for the Flake campaign said he could not comment on spending by FreedomWorks or any other such group because independent expenditures are just that, independent, and the campaign has nothing to do with the PACs.
But the spokesman, Andrew Wilder, said he would not be surprised to see such expenditures increase on behalf of both candidates as Election Day nears.
“We’re getting to two weeks out from early ballots going in the mail and that’s probably when you’re going to see more activity pick up,” Wilder said.
Andy Barr, a Carmona spokesman, said last week’s surge of pro-Flake independent spending was no cause for alarm.
“During the primary campaign, (conservative PAC) Club for Growth spent over $1 million in support of Flake. And now he’s even with us,” Barr said.
Flake and Carmona both reported having about $1.7 million in cash on hand in their last report to the FEC, which was filed Aug. 8. The next FEC filing deadline for the campaigns themselves is Oct. 15. Until then, independent expenditures, which are reported every few days, offer a partial glimpse into the financial pulse of the race.
At the outset of the general election campaign, Flake declined Carmona’s challenge to agree to a ban on Super PACs and other organizations “spending money on radio and television on either of our behalf.”
In an open letter in response, Flake said political spending by independent groups amounts to free speech and he “wouldn’t dream of asking them to forfeit these rights.” He said he was honored to have their support.
Direct fundraising by the campaigns should favor Flake, said Patrick Kenney, dean of social sciences at Arizona State University.
“Corporations and small businesses will be interested in contributing to the Republican campaign, and they tend to have more money,” Kenney said.
But Carmona “has been polling well” recently, said Kim Fridkin, professor of political science at Arizona State University, and that parity between the candidates could jumpstart financial support from national groups.
“If it looks like his race is in play, then the (Democratic Senatorial) Campaign Committee could definitely help,” Fridkin said of Carmona. “He’s closed the gap with his own advertising.”
No one expects spending to reach the levels of the 2006 race, when Jon Kyl and Jim Pederson spent nearly $30 million combined. But experts said they expect a lot more spending between now and Election Day.
“Flake is not known statewide, but he’s working on it. Carmona has the same problem,” said Kenney. “Both of those guys are going to have to spend a lot of money to get their names out there.”