As first campaign finance reports are filed, the governor’s race comes into focus

Steve Gaynor and Karrin Taylor Robson are sitting on millions for their gubernatorial campaigns as they prepare to hit the airwaves, while Katie Hobbs and Kari Lake offset strong fundraising numbers with big spending.

The state of the governor’s race became a bit clearer on Saturday as candidates submitted campaign finance reports for all of 2021. For candidates like Gaynor, Robson and Hobbs, it was an opportunity to showcase big bankrolls as the race heats up.

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For others, it was a moment of truth: Kimberly Yee announced that she was dropping out of the governor’s race and instead seeking a second term as state treasurer. Shortly afterward, she filed a campaign finance report showing that she’d raised only about a half million dollars, by far the lowest of the five major GOP candidates. 

“I want to thank my volunteers and supporters from across Arizona’s 15 counties for their support during my campaign for Governor. As I transition my campaign, I invite them to join me in my re-election efforts for Arizona Treasurer,” Yee said in a press statement. “We will have more information in the coming days as I launch my re-election campaign for Treasurer.”

Yee will have a fight on her hands as she seeks re-election. State Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, wrote on Twitter that he won’t withdraw from the treasurer’s race. He raised only $100,000 and has about $69,000 on hand. Yee has about $229,000 on hand, and must collect at least 6,663 valid signatures by April 4 to qualify for the ballot. 

That leaves Gaynor, Lake, Robson and Matt Salmon as the four contenders seeking the Republican nomination in August. 

Gaynor, a wealthy businessman who largely self-funded his unsuccessful campaign for secretary of state in 2018, began the year as the money leader in the race after injecting $5 million. He has about $4.6 million on hand and announced a statewide ad buy, touting himself as the first candidate in the race to begin running television ads. Multiple sources who are tracking ad buys say they see no movement from the Gaynor campaign yet. 

Robson has about $3 million on hand after pumping $1.95 million of her own money into her campaign and raising another $1.7 million from private contributors. And all signs point to her putting that money to work quickly. Records show that Robson will begin a sustained television advertising campaign on Tuesday, spending about $368,000 on her first week of broadcast and cable advertising. Records show she’s bought more than $2.2 million in airtime through early March. 

It’s an old maxim of political campaigns that once a campaign goes on the air, it should never go down until the race is over. And Robson is expected to have the money to ensure that happens: A developer and former regent who’s married to Ed Robson, the founder and president of Robson Communities, Robson is expected to spend tens of millions of her own money on the race. 

Robson spokesman Matthew Benson wouldn’t comment on whether she’ll stay on the air without interruption through the primary, but said she’ll “have the resources to reach every household and every voter in Arizona.” He emphasized that she isn’t just self-funding her campaign and is focusing heavily on private fundraising. 

Though Robson, who’s never held or ran for public office, entered the race with very little name identification among voters, Benson said that will change quickly as her ad campaign continues. 

“This is a significant buy, and they’re going to continue to grow. We’re not talking about a candidate who’s just going to be over on Animal Planet. She’s going to be everywhere,” Benson said. 

Lake, a former Fox 10 anchor who propelled herself to frontrunner status in the GOP primary with her combative, Trump-like style, raised $1.5 million, mostly through contributions under $100 from across the country. But her campaign finance report showed that most of that money was gone by the end of 2021.

Through the end of the year, Lake spent more than $1 million and began 2022 with only $375,000 on hand. Among the numerous expenditures were $52,000 on site rentals for events at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida club owned by former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Lake in September; $145,000 to Vantage, a Phoenix merchandising company; and several hundred thousand on consultants and campaign staff. 

Lake said her goal isn’t to have the most money so that political insiders and pundits write positive things about her campaign.

“I’ve spent my money building a big lead. I’m pretty sure my opponents would happily trade their cash for my results,” Lake said in a statement provided to the Arizona Mirror. “I trust Republican primary voters to know the difference between someone who is fighting for them and people fighting to maintain the failed status quo no matter how much of their own, or their husband’s money they spend.”

Salmon, a former congressman and the 2002 Republican nominee for Arizona governor, also burned through a significant chunk of the money he raised last year. Salmon raised nearly $1.2 million and spent about $686,000, leaving him with a little under a half-million going into 2022. 

Hobbs has a big money lead in the Dem primary

On the Democratic side, Hobbs was far and away the money leader. As Arizona’s secretary of state, the state’s top election official, she received national publicity throughout 2021 amid her pushback to false claims by Trump and his allies that the 2020 election was rigged, as well as her opposition to the so-called “audit” of the election in Maricopa County, which was commissioned by Senate President Karen Fann and conducted by unqualified, biased contractors who reached dubious conclusions

That publicity and her longstanding frontrunner status helped Hobbs raise $2.9 million in private contributions, the most of any candidate in the governor’s race of either party. 

Like Lake, Hobbs has spent an extraordinary amount of her campaign cash so far. According to her campaign finance report, she spent nearly $1.6 million. By far the biggest expense was more than $500,000 on Authentic Campaigns, a Virginia-based digital fundraising and advertising company. Hobbs also spent hundreds of thousands on staff and consultants — she’s already paid her finance director $97,000 and her campaign manager $79,000 — more than $100,000 on income tax payments, and more than $15,000 on employee health care.

Hobbs spokeswoman Jennah Rivera said the campaign paid a lot of long-term costs up front in 2021. 

“We’re just doing what it takes to win by investing now,” Rivera said. 

Democratic hopeful Marco Lopez, a former U.S. Customs and Border Patrol official and ex-mayor of Nogales, spent most of the $1 million he’s raised for his campaign, which includes $235,000 of his own money. Lopez spent about $815,000, leaving him with only $253,000 on hand. 

Former state Rep. Aaron Lieberman, has $767,000 of the $1.16 million he raised last year in his bid for the Democratic nomination, which includes $150,000 in self-funding. Lieberman has spent about $376,000 so far.

One surprise that came out of the campaign finance reports was from unknown Republican gubernatorial hopeful Paola Tulliani, the founder of La Dolce Vita biscotti company. According to her report, Tulliani, who’s running as Paola Tulliani Zen, put nearly $1.2 million of her own money into the campaign. As of the reporting deadline, she’d only spent about $26,000.

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