Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has made efforts to distance himself from the chaos that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 when a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the building.
Though he has mostly refrained from explicitly criticizing Trump, who incited the riot, Ducey immediately condemned the violence. This week, during his State of the State address, Ducey described the events of January 6 as "a sickening day" that "no American will ever forget" and called for the perpetrators to be prosecuted.
But during the 2020 election season, several political action committees, or PACs, associated with Ducey spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to elect candidates and lawmakers who either espouse the same conspiracy theories that helped foment last week's violence or attended the "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, D.C. that was the precursor to the violence.
State Senator Wendy Rogers was one big benefactor of this PAC spending. Rogers is a far-right Republican who routinely parrots Trump's baseless claims that the election was rigged against him; she has also embraced the false conservative conspiracy theory that antifascist activists were responsible for the violence.
Campaign finance reports show that Arizonans for Strong Leadership, a local PAC Ducey formed back in 2016 to help maintain a Republican majority in the state legislature, invested heavily in independent expenditures, such as radio ads and mailers, to boost Rogers' 2020 bid to represent Legislative District 6 in the state senate. The PAC also spent big on independent expenditures against Rogers' Democratic opponent in the November general election, Felicia French. Another PAC affiliated with Ducey, the Arizona Leadership Fund, donated directly to Rogers' campaign. Ducey serves as a fundraiser for both PACs, according to the Arizona Republic .
An independent review by Phoenix New Times of Arizonans for Strong Leadership's PAC shows that it spent over $170,000 on independent expenditures that supported Rogers in the months before the November 3 election. The PAC also spent at least $290,000 on independent expenditures against French prior to both the general election and the August primary election.
Rogers' campaign received an additional $5,200 direct donation from the Arizona Leadership Fund.
Arizonans for Strong Leadership also spent around $55,000 on independent expenditures that supported the reelection effort of Anthony Kern, a former Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives who lost his reelection bid and was at the pro-Trump rally in Washington D.C. on the day of the riot, according to his own tweets. Kern, a former officer with the El Mirage Police Department who was fired for lying, tried in 2019 to pass a bill that would protect officers who lie when he was a legislator.
Despite the boost from Ducey's PAC, Kern lost his House seat in November's election.
Asked about Ducey's involvement in the PAC's decisions, Ducey's staff referred New Times to Sara Mueller, a local political consultant with SM Strategies who works closely with the governor. Mueller did not respond to New Times' questions, and Ducey's office did not respond to additional questions about the PACs' backing of candidates who sympathize with the mob that stormed the Capitol.
The spending by Ducey's PACs highlights the fragile alliance previously formed between moderate Republicans and the harder-edged conservative wing of the party that has been necessary to maintain political power in the state. The results of last November's election left Republicans with slim majorities in both chambers of the Arizona legislature, and Rogers helped bolster the GOP caucus' two-seat margin in the Senate.
Rogers continues to spread disinformation about the election. Two days after the mayhem on January 8, she tweeted, "I stand with @realDonaldTrump. I do not stand with Congress." The next day, on January 9, Rogers issued another tweet, writing, "There are 80 million of us and we will not be silenced! We love our country and our freedoms too much to let it slip away. We will win. Fight fight fight. Innovate. Adapt. Overcome!" On January 10, she again falsely claimed that the election was "stolen."
Former Republican Attorney General Grant Woods noted that Rogers has run for elected office in Arizona numerous times before, including a failed run against Democratic Arizona Congressman Tom O'Halleran in 2018.
"There’s really no excuse for not knowing that she’s kind of got a screw loose," Woods said. "At some point in time, people are going to learn that just because someone is in your own political party and you want to win the majority at the legislature doesn’t mean that you can support just anybody."
"I would put Wendy Rogers in that category of just anybody," he added. "She has no business being in public office."
In a statement, Felecia Rotellini, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, was unsparing in her assessment of the activities of Ducey's PACs.
"Rogers represents the most extreme right-wing of the Republican Party and has championed baseless conspiracy theories of election fraud. Most recently, she chose the wrong side of history by trying to shift blame for last week's insurrectionists away from President Trump," she said. "Based on Ducey’s affiliation with this PAC and his unwillingness to condemn the radical elements of his own party, the Governor bears some responsibility for fueling the extremists who are dangerously wreaking havoc on our Democracy.”