While Republicans in Congressional District 8 are still deciding which candidate they want to battle Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (you'll find the details on that race in this week's feature, "The Right Stuff," on Page 15), it's obvious that the Democrats are most worried about the possibility of facing former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton.
The Arizona Democratic Party has an operative following Paton around at speaking events, capturing his every word for future dissection.
And last week, the Arizona Democratic Party celebrated the end of the payday-lending industry by unveiling a new website, paydaypaton.com, dedicated to Paton's work for the payday-loan sharks.
Paton was on the industry's payroll back in 2004, when he says he earned less than $10,000 working for the industry. He says he was just setting up a scholarship program funded by the payday lenders, but registered as a lobbyist on their behalf because he spoke with lawmakers about the program.
That gig came to an end before Paton ran for the Arizona House of Representatives in 2004.
After the 2008 legislative session concluded, Paton briefly worked for Copper State Consulting, a lobbying and PR firm that helped run the campaign for Prop 200, the Payday Loan Reform Act, which would have allowed the payday-loan industry to continue doing business in Arizona.
Six out of every 10 voters rejected Prop 200 in 2008, which meant that the law allowing payday lenders to charge such high interest rates expired last week after state lawmakers failed to extend it.
Paton wrote a ballot argument urging voters to support Prop 200, saying it would better regulate the payday-loan industry. He has argued in the past that payday lenders offer an important service, offering short-term loans that, when used responsibly, help cash-strapped consumers avoid hefty fees for bounced checks or late credit-card payments.
Paton says the Democrats' new website is "completely hypocritical," because Giffords' parents have rented retail space in two Tucson strip malls to payday-loan businesses. He calls Giffords a "payday-loan heiress," because she stands to inherit proceeds from those businesses.
"She and her family have profited more from the payday-loan industry than I ever will, because her family trust has two shopping centers that have payday-loan stores in them," Paton says.
And, he points out, lobbyist Stan Barnes of Copper State Consulting gave a total of $2,000 to Giffords for her congressional campaigns. Barnes has given Paton $1,000 this year.
Republican Jesse Kelly, who is facing Paton in the Aug. 24 Republican primary, has raised his own concerns about Paton's work for Copper State Consulting. He says that Paton shouldn't have been on the payroll of a company that lobbies members of the Legislature.
But Paton, who says he was paid less than $24,000 for the work, says he did no lobbying for Copper State Consulting, but instead helped the company reach out to Southern Arizona media and the power structure.
"I didn't lobby anybody," Paton says. "I think almost anybody you work for is going to have a lobbyist. ... It doesn't matter if you're a teacher, or you work for a public-works company like Kelly Construction, or you're a plumber. Everyone has an entity that represents them at the Capitol."
THE MONEY CHASE
The latest campaign-finance reports show that Democratic legislative candidates Cheryl Cage and Representative Nancy Young Wright are cleaning up in Legislative District 26.
Senate candidate Cage raised roughly $38,000—or more than twice the amount that her Republican contender, state Sen. Al Melvin, pulled in during the same period.
But Melvin isn't worried. He says the influx of cash to his opponent's campaign shows that Democrats are scared.
"I think there's going to be a Republican tsunami in November," the Republican freshman says. "And I think they see it coming. I think they're desperate ... and they're trying to throw a bunch of money at (the race)."
Cage attributes the burst of donations to her focus on education, as well as her business approach to campaigning and Melvin's record.
"I think that people are understanding a little bit more (about) Mr. Melvin's really extreme views," she says. "And they realize that he's not a good fit for this district."
Voters donated more than $15,000 to Melvin during the reporting period ending May 31, bringing his 2010 total to $31,000. Cage has banked a total of more than $78,000. She has also outspent Melvin more than three to one—almost $17,000, to his $5,000 so far.
Both Senate candidates ran Clean Elections campaigns for the seat in 2008, and each received $58,000 for their general-election campaigns, though Cage was awarded $26,000 less than Melvin for the primary election, because Melvin received a bundle of matching funds after his GOP opponent and independent committees spent money to campaign against him. Cage lost the general election by fewer than 2,000 votes.
Cage says she will need to spend about $100,000 this year to oust incumbent Sen. Melvin.
"It makes me sick every time I think how much money that is, and all of the good things that could be done with that much money," she says. "But, again, this is an investment in Arizona's future."
Melvin expects to keep his seat by spending roughly $70,000, mostly on comparison advertisements highlighting her "secular socialist agenda" versus his "mainstream American free-market agenda."
"The teachers' union and others spent about a quarter-million dollars in this district to try to defeat me last time, and obviously, it didn't work," he says. "So it isn't just the money; it's how you spend it."
Young Wright pulled in more money than any other Southern Arizona legislative candidate in this reporting period—a whopping $44,000, bringing her total to about $49,000 for the year.
She says deep government cuts have "alarmed people, and I think it has woken them up in a way they hadn't been woken up before."
Her Republican seatmate, Rep. Vic Williams, has about $31,000 in the bank, $16,000 of which came in this reporting period. Though he has a primary, and she does not, Williams has spent less than a quarter of the amount that Young Wright has so far this year—$3,000 to her $13,000.
Young Wright was elected to the seat in 2008 as a Clean Elections candidate and decided to run a traditionally funded campaign this year because of legal challenges to matching funds that would leave her defenseless to Republican attacks in the final hours of the 2008 race.
"Clean Elections gives a relatively small amount of money in a competitive race like LD 26," she says.
The three Democrats running for Arizona attorney general will hash out their differences in a debate this week on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated. Candidates Vince Rabago, Felecia Rotellini and David Lujan will face questions from anchor Bill Buckmaster and your Skinny scribe, Jim Nintzel. The show airs at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, July 8.
On Monday, July 12, Arizona Illustrated's 2010 political forums will continue with a debate between Democrats Penny Kotterman and Jason Williams, who are running for Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch.
Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel