Hit and Run

Leaders of political attack committees hide in the shadows, but the contributors finally stand revealed.

Real estate dealmaker Alberto Moore seems reluctant to discuss his recent political activity as chairman of the Comite de Barrio Unido, an independent campaign committee that mailed an flier attacking Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias in last month's Democratic primary.

"I'll tell you what," Moore said when reached by telephone earlier this week. "I've got a long-distance call right now. I can't talk. Bye-bye."

Then he abruptly hung up.

Perhaps Moore, a proud "investor" in the Greater Tucson Economic Council who has been "involved in marketing in distinct but diversified commercial ventures involving real estate and securities for over 35 years," is simply embarrassed by the Comite's mailer, a crude flier that alleged that Elias wasn't living up the standards set by his predecessor, congressional candidate Raúl Grijalva. In reality, Grijalva had not only endorsed Elias, but the two had shared campaign volunteers and had offices side-by-side.

Elias defeated challenger Frank Felix by 10 percentage points, even though Felix spent $92,678, compared to Elias' $50,459.

In addition, Elias faced attacks from two separate independent committees that hammered him with negative mailers in the final days of the campaign. Both committees waited until after final pre-primary deadline for campaign finance reports had passed to file organizational papers with the county. That strategy allowed them to avoid revealing their Growth Lobby supporters before election day.

The first committee, the It Takes A Village Committee, didn't require a village of contributors. It relied on a few deep pockets to raise $22,110. A total of 11 people gave to the committee, including Jim and Vicki Click ($2,000), Bill Estes Jr. ($2,000), Bill Estes III ($2,000), Mark and Laurie Butler ($2,000) and political operative Kevin Smith ($1,110). The biggest contribution came from the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association, which kicked in $6,000.

Like Moore, Steve Drew, chairman of It Takes A Village, is ducking interviews. Drew, who recently shuttered the Famous Sam's franchise he owned, didn't return phone calls from The Weekly.

Moore's Comite de Barrio Unido missed the October 10 deadline for filing the campaign finance report but was expected to turn in the list this week. The committee faces a fine of $10 for each day the report is late.

A copy of the campaign finance report obtained by The Weekly shows that the Comite de Barrio Unido received $2,200 from the It Takes A Village Committee. Three other contributors, none of whom lived in District 5, made up this united neighborhood: Tucson Association of Realtors bigwig Patricia Richardson and Pizza Hut magnate Brent Kyte, who both gave $100, and accountant Dale Calvert, a local transportation activist who chipped in $50.

The independent campaign committees are good example of the growing trend of third-party advocacy. That's when an independent campaign committee unconnected (at least on paper) to the candidates in a race creates attack ads. (Technically, the spots don't have to be attack ads--they can just be ads that support a candidate. But attack ads are the normal course of business.)

Third-party advocacy is a way to bring up a candidate's negatives among voters while the opposing candidate who benefits can duck responsibility and say the backers of the independent campaign are just exercising their freedom of speech. The negative attacks also tend to supress turnout on election day.

The development community has increasingly used independent campaign committees in local elections in recent years. In last year's Tucson City Council elections, independent campaign committees targeted Democrat Steve Leal, who won reelection, and Democrat Paula Aboud, who lost the general election to Republican Kathleen Dunbar.

Two years earlier, an independent campaign committee targeted Democrat Molly McKasson in the mayor's race, running attack ads that helped Republican Bob Walkup win the office.

Such independent campaign committees are weighing in at the state level in this year's election, with both the Arizona Democratic Party and the Arizona Republican Party spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads that take aim at Republican Matt Salmon and Democrat Janet Napolitano.

But in those cases, party officials are willing to stand behind the ads they craft, unlike Moore and Drew, who simply hit and run.

Elias isn't surprised that the chairs of the committees lack the courage to stand behind their convictions publicly.

"I would suggest they're not really the people running the show," says Elias.