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FEC urged to probe mystery group behind ads in Arizona race

Complaint: Ads attacking Democrat vying to challenge Schweikert paid for with cash

Voting signs are posted at the early voting polls at One Judiciary Square in Washington on June 10, 2016.
Voting signs are posted at the early voting polls at One Judiciary Square in Washington on June 10, 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Democratic abortion rights group EMILY’s List is asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate a group that has run a television ad targeting a Democrat vying to challenge Republican Rep. David Schweikert in Arizona. 

The ad accuses Marlene Galán-Woods, one of several Democrats running in Arizona’s 1st District, of stealing money and opposing gay rights and abortion access. It depicts Galán-Woods as a marionette and concludes by calling her “just another political opportunist.”

The ad, which aired several times in the Phoenix media market, was produced by Turn AZ Blue PAC. That sounds like a Democratic group but, according to a complaint EMILY’s List said it filed with the FEC on Wednesday, it is not affiliated with the party. 

The group’s treasurer is Thomas Datwyler, who has worked as a treasurer and accountant on campaigns supporting Republicans. Datwyler has a record of violating FEC reporting requirements and was the subject of an investigation by the Mississippi attorney general’s office, the complaint notes.

According to the complaint, the ads were paid for in cash by Renegade Public Affairs, a Texas-based firm founded by Carlos Sierra, a consultant who has worked with Republicans as well as some Democratic and Libertarian candidates.

Datwyler could not be reached for comment. 

Sierra said Thursday that he had not seen the complaint but he disputed that the ads were paid for with cash. “I got brought on to do the advertising,” he said. “I just handled the creative part.”

EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, says Turn AZ Blue has not reported any of its spending or listed its donors and it is asking the FEC to open an investigation.

The complaint alleges that the ads aim to create doubt among Democratic primary voters about Galán-Woods, who was endorsed by EMILY’s List last year. 

“Not surprisingly, the advertisements were riddled with falsehoods,” the complaint states. “What is surprising is that this Turn AZ Blue PAC apparently does not exist–the PAC has not registered nor filed reports with the commission.”

The complaint urges the FEC to “take all remedial steps” to ensure the PAC’s backers are exposed, as required by law.

Schweikert is not named in the complaint, and there was no indication of his involvement. But ousting him is a priority for Democrats. The 1st District is a battleground that President Joe Biden won with 50 percent of the vote in 2020. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Tilt Republican.

The ad could be an attempt by GOP donors to hinder Galán-Woods’ pursuit of the nomination to help a Democrat they believe would be a weaker opponent to Schweikert. It would be a variation of a tactic Democrats have used in Republican primaries to pump up support for a candidate deemed easier to beat in the general election. 

Galán-Woods’ supporters include CHC BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which gave her campaign $5,000. Other Democrats vying for the nomination to face Schweikert include Andrei Cherny, a lawyer and former chairman of the state Democratic Party who worked as a speechwriter in the Clinton White House; state Rep. Amish Shah; and Conor O’Callaghan, a lawyer who worked on Wall Street.

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