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Arpaio Leads in Sheriff’s Race Cash, But Just 1 in 8 of His Donors Are Arizonans

The former Maricopa County law enforcement official.
The former Maricopa County law enforcement official.
Gage Skidmore

This is the first story in a three-part series on money in the 2020 Maricopa County sheriff’s race. Part two, a peek at incumbent Democratic Sheriff Paul Penzone’s major donors, is available here. Part three, a report on the long-shot Republican candidate Jerry Sheridan's chances of winning, is available here.

When longtime Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio ran for a seventh term in 2016, he raised over $12 million — largely from out-of-state donors.

The controversial Republican who fancied himself “America’s toughest sheriff” lost that race to Democrat Paul Penzone by nearly 200,000 votes. But in his crusade to win back his seat in the 2020 election, Arpaio is revisiting his old playbook.

The controversial ex-sheriff has far out-raised all the other candidates in the 2020 sheriff’s race up until this point, but has done so by relying heavily on out-of-state donors, according to a Phoenix New Times analysis of campaign filings.

Seven in eight of Arpaio’s reported donors this election cycle are from out of state, the data shows.

Meanwhile, Arpaio’s competitors, Democratic Sheriff Paul Penzone and Republican Jerry Sheridan, the former chief deputy under Arpaio, have amassed fewer dollars and donors than the 87-year old Arpaio. But they’ve culled nearly all of their support from local sources.

Can Arpaio, who lost to Penzone after serving 24 years as sheriff, really win again in a county that cast him out following reckless spending policies, costly legal settlements, and what the Justice Department called “the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history"?

For this story, New Times mined roughly 3,000 individual contributions and hundreds of pages of 2019 campaign filings, reviewing the names, addresses, and donation amounts for all contributors who gave the candidates more than $50 in 2019.

Of the 1,838 people who gave Arpaio’s campaign more than $50 last year, only 230 of them — or one-eighth — hailed from Arizona.

By contrast, Penzone received donations over $50 from 527 individual contributors, and all but 16 of them were from an Arizonan.

The millions of dollars that fueled Arpaio’s last campaign have yet to be seen this time around, but he and Penzone, the two top-raising candidates, each have earned hundreds of thousands in individual contributions. Arpaio has raised just over $480,000, and Penzone has raised nearly $380,000.

Sheridan, who hopes to emerge victorious against his former boss in the August 4 primary election, is far behind both front-runners in fundraising at this point, having raised $46,000. But he also got most of his support locally — only six of his 78 donors who gave over $50 lived outside Arizona.

New Times’ analysis of the contributions revealed that most people who gave over $50 to Arpaio were from California. The next top states for Arpaio donors were Arizona, Texas, Florida, and New York. The non-Arizona donors hail from every state in the union except the smallest — Rhode Island.

Arpaio’s hard-lining immigration policies and their cost to the county have estranged him from both Democrats and Republicans in Maricopa County, but at the national level, President Donald Trump repeatedly has defended him, and pardoned him in 2017 for his criminal contempt-of-court conviction.

Arpaio argues the global fame — and infamy — he’s enjoyed since then will give him an edge in the 2020 race.

“When I walk the streets, no matter where I’m at, people come up to me,” he told New Times. “Hispanics come up to me, blacks, and I talk to everybody. I’m known, naturally, around the world.”

Arpaio's critics decry his rhetoric as anti-immigrant and hateful. And his competitors argue his fundraising and out-of-state support do little to help him win in a county where local voters already rejected him four years ago.

“The people in Michigan and New York and South Dakota and Illinois that are donating to Sheriff Joe, they can’t vote,” said Arpaio’s Republican opponent, Jerry Sheridan. “In 2012, Arpaio raised about $12 million for his run for sheriff. And Penzone still beat him. It’s not about the money.”

Penzone himself didn't comment, but his campaign mentioned being proud of harnessing local donations.

“We just think that sends a strong message about our support in the county where people actually have a vote,” said campaign manager Sophie O’Keefe-Zelman.

Arpaio said the comparatively low local support his campaign filings show is “misleading” because it doesn’t include donations $50 and under, which make up about half of what he’s raised so far.

“Every elected official gets money out of their jurisdiction,” Arpaio continued. “If you’re running for Congress, you don’t just get it for your little district. People do support me around the country. I got more money than Penzone — double it.”

According to the latest campaign filings, Arpaio actually has more than double what Penzone has in cash to start out 2020. Arpaio began the election cycle with over $460,000 in cash reserves, and he's spent over $280,000. The latest data shows Arpaio has about $656,000 in campaign funds, while Penzone has $270,000.

But he declined to share the names or addresses of donors who gave $50 or less, which he’s not required to release according to Maricopa County policy.

The results of Arpaio's last attempt to re-enter the political arena indicates the support he used to have within Arizona's Republican base has slipped. His 2018 Senate run ended with roughly 80 percent of Republicans voting against him in the primary election.

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Local progressive activists have been particularly vocal in their criticism of the ex-sheriff’s attempt to win back his old job, calling him a “racist” unfit for public office. That’s a claim Arpaio vehemently denies.

“When they call me a racist, all I’m going to say is I have four grandchildren and two are minorities,” he told New Times.

Despite criticism for his polarizing policies and his largely out-of-state campaign funding, Arpaio seems undeterred. If he gets his way, he says, he’ll bring back the policies for which he became notorious, from drug crackdowns to illegal immigration enforcement — “within the confines of the Constitution,” he’s careful to say.

“I’m in this to win,” Arpaio said. “I’m not taking any prisoners. My posse that I started years and years ago is coming back. A lot of things are coming back.”

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