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Enterprising Theory

Is Team Flake trying to remind Wil Cardon that they have long memories?

One of the biggest "dark money" players in this year's primary cycle has been the Free Enterprise Club, a non-profit organization that normally focuses on reducing regulations and taxes.

This year, the Free Enterprise Club has been pouring money—more than $1.5 million—into races for the Arizona Corporation Commission, secretary of state, governor and various legislative contests. The organization has spent so much, in fact, that the Arizona Secretary of State's Office last week asked the Attorney General's Office to look into whether it should have registered as a political committee.

In the Secretary of State's race, the Free Enterprise Club has been boosting the candidacy of state Rep. Justin Pierce, who is facing state Sen. Michele Reagan and Wil Cardon in the GOP primary.

The Free Enterprise Club's entry into big campaign spending is raising a lot of eyebrows, particularly when it comes to many of the issues that the hit pieces are focusing on. The club normally concerns itself with free markets, not hyping more border alarmism or crusading against the Common Core learning standards.

Rumors abound that Phoenix-based utility giant APS is providing the dollars to assist the campaign on behalf of Justin Pierce, the son of Arizona Corporation Commission member Gary Pierce, who has been generally sympathetic to APS's efforts to make the use of solar power more expensive for homeowners.

Because the Free Enterprise Club functions as a nonprofit rather than a traditional political committee, it is not required to release the source of its funding for the campaign. For its part, APS has declined to confirm nor deny that it is funneling money through the Free Enterprise Club, which certainly suggests something is going on.

While the APS angle provides more than enough justification for the Free Enterprise Club's foray into the Secretary of State's race, there may be another minor factor involved.

The team at the Free Enterprise Club has often been close to U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake. Steve Voeller left a job as Flake's congressional chief of staff in 2005 to found the club and, in 2012, he left the club to go to work chief of staff of Flake's Senate office.

So the Free Enterprise Club's hit pieces targeting Cardon as a big phony who is soft on immigration have a scent of payback to them. Two years ago, Cardon spent millions of dollars trying to knock out Flake in the 2012 GOP primary for the U.S. Senate seat. It didn't go well for Cardon; even after dropping more than $6 million of his own money, he got less than 22 percent of the vote against Flake.

This year, contrary to expectations, Cardon has not been spending much of his own money in the SOS race. That may have something to do with the fact that his family members are suing him, saying he has been misusing family trust dollars on his political career and other luxuries.

However that legal action plays out, we're not surprised to hear some GOP insiders whispering that some of these hit pieces against Cardon might just be Team Flake's way of crushing another one of Cardon's political dreams.

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