A mysterious mailer from a dark money group trying to paint a progressive Phoenix City Council candidate as a Trump supporter arrived in the mailboxes of Democratic voters on Thursday.
"Don't let another election get stolen!" trumpets the flyer along with a picture of District 7 candidate Yassamin Ansari. "Make Phoenix Great Again!"
On the back, it promises that Ansari will "drain the swamp," "stop fake news," and protect elections from fraud.
One problem? Ansari is a adviser for a climate-related nonprofit group who has a long list of Democratic bonafides and who once interned for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
“Are you kidding?" Ansari asked when New Times inquired whether she thought the presidential election was stolen. "I was being attacked this whole time for being too progressive and now I’m in an alternate reality where I’m a Trump supporter."
Ansari is currently in a runoff election against fellow Democrat and Laveen Community Council member Cinthia Estela to replace outgoing councilmember Michael Nowakowski. Estela has Nowakowski's endorsement and has stuck closer to his positions on police oversight and expanded homeless services in the district, while Ansari, who is backed by Mayor Kate Gallego, has staked out more aggressive positions in support of those proposals.
With Nowakowski a deciding vote on those issues, the March 9 election could change the balance of power on the city council. The misleading flyer seems timed to coincide with the arrival of ballots, which were mailed out yesterday.
Ansari said she had received several calls today from concerned voters in the southwestern Phoenix district who said they were planning on voting for her until they received the flyer.
"This is just a completely nefarious and slanderous attack coming from this illegal dark money group trying to impact Phoenix elections,” Ansari said.
An outside, dark-money group is telling voters in District 7 that I am a Donald Trump protegée & pro-MAGA candidate.— Yassamin Ansari for Phoenix City Council (@yassaminansari) February 11, 2021
As a lifelong Democrat, I am outraged & disgusted by this slanderous attack.
PLEASE let your friends/family know that this is entirely untrue.
THREAD (1/5) pic.twitter.com/7gGAOfYMPT
The group listed on the flyer, "Americans for Progress," does not appear to be registered with the city, state, or Federal Election Commission. Neither is "Democrats for a Better Phoenix," which sent out a flyer supporting Estela using the same bulk mailing account.
Estela received 116 more votes than Ansari in the five-way November primary, but Ansari says that internal polling shows that her campaign is currently up 16 points over Estela. She thinks that some of Estela's supporters are getting nervous and trying to undercut her support among Democratic voters. Estela did not respond to a call and text seeking comment on what she knew about the flyer.
This is not the only outside expenditure in the race. Both candidates have received backing from political action groups. Anti-police brutality group Poder has spent several thousand dollars on digital ads and mailers opposing Estela, and the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona spent just short of $5,000 on mailers supporting her before the primary in November.
Estela recently secured the backing of the political wing of community services nonprofit Chicanos Por La Causa, which has distributed signs supporting her in south Phoenix. In an odd twist, those signs feature the slogan "Promises Made, Promises Kept," which was recently used by former President Donald Trump for his unsuccessful re-election campaign.
Joseph Garcia, the executive director of the group's political action fund, pointed out that the phrase has a long history before Trump and said it was a reference to Estela's work on the Laveen Community Council. He said the group has pledged to avoid negative campaigning and he had no idea was behind the Ansari flyers.
"It never will be us," he said.
Ansari charges that the mailers may be a violation of Phoenix's Proposition 419, which passed in 2018 and requires the disclosure of amounts over $1,000 spent in city elections. She is calling on the offices of city and county attorneys to investigate.
A spokesperson for the city attorney's office referred an inquiry to the city clerk's office, which handles election finance. A spokesperson for that office did not respond before publication.
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