A top leader of Arizona Democrats continues to use his wealth to enrich his party — and he’s outspending his peers around the country.
Jim Pederson, chairman of the state Democratic Party, donated nearly $2.26 million during the 2004 election cycle, according to a Washington, D.C., watchdog group. Pederson was the nation’s top donor to any state political party, the Center for Public Integrity reported recently.
Since Pederson took charge in 2001, the real estate developer has pumped millions into what had been a state party on the decline. Pederson was responsible for nearly half of the Democratic Party’s total donations for the 2002 election cycle and about 45 percent of the total for 2004.
The additional money allowed the state party to expand its staff, develop a statewide voter database and boost its media advertising.
In 2002, Pederson’s dollars helped the party elect a governor and state attorney general even though Republicans held the edge in voter registration.
"In Arizona, we’re in a kind of unique situation because of the Clean Elections statute (which provides limited public campaign funds)," Pederson said. "Our candidates now depend on the parties to do a lot of the heavy lifting that they can’t do themselves because of spending restrictions."
But Pederson’s money didn’t go as far last year, when President Bush handily defeated U.S. Sen. John Kerry among Arizona voters and Democrats lost some ground in the Legislature.
The state Republican Party highlighted that gap last week in a news release about Pederson’s donations.
"Republicans were outspent two-to-one in 2004 by the Democrats in Arizona, yet we had a Republican sweep on Election Day," said Colin McCracken, spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party. "Just like their national leadership, the Arizona Democrats did less with more."
The Center for Public Integrity did report the state Republican Party spent much less, but those numbers don’t include the fundraising records set by the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign.
Meanwhile, the Democrats did attract a record number of voters to the polls last year, Pederson said.
"I’m pleased with where the party stands right now, and I think ’06 could be a Democratic year," he said.
As a real estate developer, Pederson has left his imprint on 19 Valley shopping centers of varying sizes, including Terravita Marketplace in Scottsdale, Val Vista Marketplace in Gilbert, Tempe Square and Mesa Shores.
He rehabilitated aging centers such as Scottsdale’s Chaparral Plaza and built huge retail developments, such as the regional-mallsized Promenade in Scottsdale, from scratch. Pederson has two more centers in development now, including Hayden Peak Crossing in Scottsdale.
Pederson’s donations might seem paltry compared to other Democratic activists such as George Soros, who provided $23.45 million to various groups the last two years, according to opensecrets.org.
But donors such as Soros gave most of their money to Democratic coffers for federal campaigns and independent expenditure groups such as America Coming Together.
When it comes to donations to state political parties, the only people who even came close to Pederson were the former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and her husband at $1 million, the Center for Public Integrity said.
Within Arizona, Pederson was in a completely different class than other wealthy political contributors.
The next highest Democratic contribution for 2004 was $120,000 from Fred Eychaner, a media mogul who lives in Chicago instead of Arizona.
The top Republican donor was Tucson car dealer Jim Click at $72,000.
Pederson pointed out he has scaled back his state party donations from 2001-02, when he gave nearly $4 million, without hurting the Democrats’ ability to raise money.
He said he plans to offer even less in the future.
But Pederson has an incentive to reserve his riches for himself in 2006. He appears to be leaning toward a challenge of incumbent Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who has responded by building his own war chest of more than $2.5 million.