The AZ GOP Slandered Dan Saban and Used Funny Money for Sheriff Joe. This Lifelong Republican Has Had Enough

Danny Hellman

I never really thought my marriage would last, not even when I was standing there in a frumpy white dress saying, "I do." But I never thought I would leave the Republican Party. That, for me, was a constant. That was sacred.

But in the past three weeks, the Arizona Republican Party did what four years on a left-leaning college campus could not: It made me an Independent. There's a lesson here for David Horowitz — the biggest danger to young conservatives in this state isn't lefty professors. It's the moral bankruptcy of our own party.

There is a cancer on the state Republican Party. And I'm not going to stand by to watch it metastasize.

I'm writing this with a heavy heart. One of my earliest memories is standing in a voting booth with my mom, watching her cast a ballot for Ronald Reagan. I was 3 years old. The day after America elected Bill Clinton, I wore black to my high school — in mourning. And I've seriously got to be the only College Republican who wrote a swooning paean to Bob Dole for her campus newspaper in 1996. Nobody was excited about Dole! But I was a true believer.

And that hasn't changed, not really. I still believe in the same principles: freedom, limited government, the sanctity of human life.

The problem is that now I live in Arizona.

Last month, the party slandered a good man in the most vile and deceitful of ways. The TV commercial accusing Dan Saban of sexual shenanigans was the most disgusting thing I've seen in nine years as a reporter, and that's saying something. This was the sort of ad you'd be embarrassed to watch with your parents in the room. It was also intellectually dishonest.

But that's not the reason I'm leaving, not entirely.

This is a divorce, after all. You don't wake up and say, "I'm out of here." You do the slow dance of disillusionment. You fight. You hate your spouse more for not letting you go.

Then, finally, you file your papers and you walk out.

In the end, what got me was the money.

The GOP broke campaign finance laws to run the anti-Saban ad. The law unquestionably requires the party to disclose the source of all donations. Yet in the case of $105,000 linked to nasty adds against Saban and fellow Democrat Tim Nelson, it did not. Randy Pullen, the party's chairman, told the Capitol Times' Yellow Sheet two weeks ago that he didn't even know who made the donation. A week later, when the Yellow Sheet pushed, he admitted that his contact was a high-ranking member of the Sheriff's Office.

Why does that matter?

There's a reason Sheriff Joe Arpaio has insisted that he had nothing to do with the attack ad. It would be completely illegal if he had! By law, independent expenditures (like the one that paid for the ad) cannot be made in conjunction with a candidate's campaign. Period.

Yet Pullen's contact for the six-figure donation was the commander of the sheriff's own SWAT team. Commander Joel Fox is so close to Arpaio that he filed the sheriff's nominating petitions back in 2004.

The commander got his job running the SWAT team because of his support. After the 2004 election, Arpaio dumped the team's longtime leader for supporting Saban. Fox and another Arpaio loyalist got the job instead — resulting in a debacle when the inexperienced new commanders led their men into an ambush, as reported by the East Valley Tribune here).

Now, four years after he worked for Arpaio's campaign, Commander Fox has apparently become the Republican Party's bag man — for ads so sleazy that the GOP ultimately had to ask TV stations to take them off the air.

Normally I wouldn't take all this quite so personally. I've grown to expect no less from the sheriff's goon squad.

But the people who screwed up here weren't just Arpaio's people. These were top officials at the Arizona Republican Party.

Chairman Randy Pullen accepted a six-figure donation without getting a comprehensive list of donors, as required by law. Based on his public statements since this thing blew up, we can assume he got the cash from Commander Joel Fox. Then, Pullen apparently channeled the money to a newly formed group called Arizonans for Public Safety — just in time for a smear campaign against the man challenging Fox's boss.

What was he thinking?

That no one would notice? This was the scuzziest ad seen on TV since Willie Horton, and Pullen thought no one would bother to follow up on the funding?

The GOP ran the ads, according to Pullen, because it thought voters need to know about Dan Saban's character.

Yet the worst smears in the ad, the ones odiously suggesting that Saban had been investigated for rape and exposing himself to a child, were completely misleading. There was never a credible allegation relating to either charge. They're also old news — my colleague Paul Rubin debunked both in this newspaper ("Boob's Tube," January 25, 2007). Saban's lawsuit against Arpaio in the wake of the 2004 election proved just how baseless the charges were.

The only new thing, the part that Pullen apparently thought voters "needed to know," is that Dan Saban once masturbated. Stop the presses, boys, we've got some hot news here.

So state Republican Chairman Randy Pullen took money from Arpaio's staffer and funneled it toward a shadowy group whose sole purpose was sleazy ads against Saban and fellow Democrat Tim Nelson.

That means Randy Pullen is both a dupe and a shyster.

On the night of the vice presidential debate, I helped throw a party for a group of political junkies. Thinking party favors would jazz things up, I trotted over to the state's Democrat and Republican headquarters to buy buttons and bumper stickers.

At both HQs, I was required to fill out a form with my name, address, occupation, and the company I work for before I could spend one dime. Buying a button is considered a donation.

So even though I spent only $10 at Republican headquarters, they've now got all my information on file. I'll probably show up in online campaign finance reports from here to eternity.

Yet Randy Pullen didn't bother getting disclosure when Sheriff's Commander Joel Fox sent him a check for $105,000?

We know that the anti-Saban dirt came from the lawsuit that Saban filed against Arpaio. And we know that Arpaio's top aides did, in fact, try to shop the information around. David Hendershott, Arpaio's henchman, actually told one Democrat to put in a public-records request for it.

Democrat Gerald Richard, then running for county attorney, refused. But when the GOP's dirty ad ran, and Arpaio sputtered that he knew nothing about it, Richard stepped forward to blow the whistle about his conversation with Hendershott.

Richard did the right thing. Which is certainly more than I can say for the GOP leaders involved in this one. Not only did they attempt the funny money thing with Fox, but when they got called on it last week, they said they'd return the check to Commander Fox's secretive group. So Fox & Company get both the dirty ad and the money, too? Meanwhile, Pullen insisted to the Arizona Republic Monday that the Fox money didn't go to the anti-Saban ad — quite a contradiction to his previous remarks.

When things get this convoluted, you know somebody's screwed up.

Since moving to Arizona four years ago, I've found myself repeatedly explaining to people that I'm not that kind of Republican. I believe the best government is that which governs least — not that law enforcement should have unbridled powers to harass citizens. I believe in free enterprise, not rounding up workers just because they don't have the right papers.

As it turns out, I'm not an Arizona Republican.

As a girl growing up in a decaying Rust Belt city run by a Democratic machine, I believed we were the good guys. That's naive, I know. But things were so utterly corrupt in Cleveland that you had to believe that if your party ever got into power, you'd do it differently. That's what allowed you to believe in democracy, despite all the evidence in front of you.


I can't stay in any party that would carry Sheriff Arpaio's water. And I'm certainly not going to stand by while the state Republican Party breaks the law to do it.

It was Barry Goldwater who told Richard Nixon he had to resign after it became clear that Nixon was too morally compromised to continue as president. I can only imagine what Mr. Conservative would say today to Randy Pullen and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

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