When Sheriff Joe Arpaio launched his own federal political action committee last year, he vowed to move beyond his role as just a national leader for immigration hardliners. He wanted to become one of their more serious sources of campaign cash.
But months after announcing the creation of Joe PAC, the Arizona sheriff’s desire to become a major financial backer for the movement is far from reality. Instead, it has been consumed by his own bid for reelection.
As of Dec. 31, Joe PAC had managed to scrape together only about $20,000, according to financial disclosures filed last week with the Federal Election Commission. None of it had been spent on other candidates or groups.
The tally is nowhere near the $6 million Arpaio hauled in as part of his bid to win a sixth term as Maricopa County sheriff later this year.
The problem, according to the person in charge of running both fundraising efforts for the sheriff, has been in finding the time to move ahead on both fronts.
“We were aggressively fundraising for the sheriff’s reelection last year,” Chad Willems, the chairman of Joe PAC and also the chief strategist for Arpaio’s reelection, told TPM on Tuesday. “It was just a matter, frankly, of timing.”
The reelection funding has been a source of pride for both Arpaio and Willems. It shattered the previous Maricopa County fundraising record Arpaio set in 2008 with $610,000. And it outpaces most candidates for office at any level in Arizona history.
A darling of conservatives nationwide, the sheriff has been hoping to use his newly found fundraising prowess to become a bigger player on the national stage. Willems laid out some big goals in a September news release, put out about six weeks after the PAC was created.
“We’re excited about the impact that Sheriff Joe Arpaio will have in key races across the country for Congress, the U.S. Senate and the Presidential race,” Willems wrote. “The Sheriff has actively campaigned across the country to support candidates and causes. JoePAC will be just one more way that he can help elect good people to office.”
While Willems acknowledged the PAC hasn’t been his main focus in recent months, he said that was changing. Fundraising emails and direct mail pieces went out to potential donors in mid January, he said, and last year’s $20,000 came from minimal effort.
“Basically we went out and raised that 20 grand in just a short amount of time with web ads,” Willems said. “We didn’t do any direct mailings…That was just placing some ads on some conservative websites around the country.”
Most of the funding came from small donors, Willems said. Joe PAC’s financial disclosure documents show only four people who gave more than $200. None of them were from Arpaio’s home state of Arizona.
And while Joe PAC’s money hasn’t gone to other candidates or causes, it also hasn’t gone unspent.
A little more than half the cash went to a Virginia company called Campaign Solutions, which Joe PAC paid for fundraising help. The company is run by Becki Donatelli, who boasts of doing fundraising work for Arizona Sen. McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign and President George W. Bush’s successful 2004 reelection.
The sheriff remains a sought after endorsement in conservative circles, and Willems said the committee will take its time choosing which candidates and groups to help. None of those decisions will be made until at least April or May, he said.
“What we’re going to do is first focus on going out and raising a bunch of money,” he said. Then Joe PAC can “use the money wisely, not just throw it at anyone who’s asking for it.”
Still, it’s unclear what kind of clout Arpaio’s endorsement brings with it since the sheriff, though well known, is still not a household name nationwide.
On a national level, Arpaio has picked losers in the last two presidential elections. In 2008, he endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who ended up losing the Republican nomination to one of the sheriff’s longtime rivals, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Then last year, Arpaio endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP presidential race. Lagging in the polls, Perry dropped out last month.
View Joe PAC’s entire disclosure here:
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com