Gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey speaks at a Chandler Chamber of Commerce event in 2013. [Eric Mungenast/Tribune]

Eric Mungenast/Tribune

A major auto dealer has become a prime force in trying to ensure that Doug Ducey is the Republican nominee for governor — and that Christine Jones is not.

New campaign finance reports show that a group dubbed Conservative Leadership for Arizona has spent $172,350 on commercials and other help for Ducey. At the same time, it spent another $34,298 in media attacking Jones.

And the reports show that $100,000 of that came from Jim Click who owns a string of dealerships in Southern Arizona.

Click actually may have contributed more by now: The contribution reports cover only through the end of May. But the organization, as required by law, has filed special reports in the interim showing it is continuing to spend heavily to affect the outcome of the Aug. 26 GOP primary.

Click did not return messages seeking comment about his involvement in the race.

The official report of outside funds creeping into the gubernatorial race may not reflect all of the money that is flowing.

Separately, a group called Veterans for a Strong America has run TV ads attacking Jones and linking her to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador and three others dead. That is based on a blog post that Jones made at the beginning of last year which predicted that “Americans, regardless of party affiliation or political involvement, will begin to realize what an effective Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was.”

But the organization has not filed any campaign finance reports, listing itself instead as a nonpolitical organization doing issues advertising that is not required to disclose donors or expenses.

“Our intent is very clear: We want to educate voters,” said Joel Arends, the group's chairman.

He did acknowledge that the commercial was produced by DC London, an organization run by political consultant Sean Noble — the same group that has been paid by Conservative Leadership for Arizona. But Arends said there is no connection between the groups.

All that outside spending could make the difference in a race where Ducey and Jones have about equal amounts of funds to spend on their own.

The latest campaign finance reports show Ducey has collected slightly more than $2 million as of the May 31 cutoff and had spent about half of that by that point.

By contrast, Jones listed total contributions at more than $2.3 million, having spent more than $1.9 million of that.

The big difference, though, is the source: All but about $200,000 of Jones' money came from her own wallet. Ducey, by contrast, listed just $22,245 in personal and family donations.

Scott Smith also reached into his own pocket at the last minute, writing himself a $150,000 check so that his report could show his donations topped $1 million by the filing deadline. But Smith, who only recently started TV ads, had spent less than $200,000 of that by the end of the reporting period.

Smith, like Jones, also is being attacked by outside money. A group called the 60 Plus Association already has put nearly $81,000 into ads attacking Smith.

And that may not be all of it.

In a complaint filed Tuesday with state election officials, an attorney representing Smith contends yet another organization, the Legacy Foundation Action Fund, has is spending money to attack his client.

Kory Langhofer said that group did opposition research against Smith while he was still mayor of Mesa and then ran ads attacking him shortly before Smith resigned. Those ads specifically linked Smith, through his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to support of policies by President Obama.

Potentially more significant, Langhofer said there are links between the consultants used by the Legacy Foundation and Ducey, links he said show illegal coordination between the groups.

A spokeswoman for Ducey called the claim “meritless.”

Ken Bennett and Andrew Thomas have qualified for public funding of $753,616 for the Republican primary, plus any seed money they raised initially.

Lone Democrat Fred DuVal reported $1.7 million in donations, with just $610,000 in expenses.

In another other statewide race of note, incumbent Attorney General Tom Horne tallied donations of more than $417,000. GOP primary foe Mark Brnovich has raised just a third of that.

Meanwhile Democrat Felecia Rotellini who narrowly lost to Horne in 2010, already has collected more than $1 million.

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