Last week, sixty employers and businesses urged Arizona state lawmakers to vote against a series of anti-immigrant bills because they would damage the economy and tourism industry. This effort by business leaders was largely credited for convincing nine Republican state senators to go out on a limb and side with Democrats in rejecting legislation that would have redefined citizenship under the 14th Amendment and required public schools to verify immigration status, among other things. While it certainly was a “risky” move that was ultimately successful, it brings up the larger question of whether business leaders are going to continue to financially support Arizona’s Republican Party in spite of its overwhelmingly enforcement-only platform and nativist leadership.
So far, several of the same executives who signed on to the letter urging the Arizona legislature to “redirect its energy” by shifting its focus away from state and local immigration measures and towards a federal solution have been some of the state’s biggest GOP donors. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has led the charge against immigrants in their state and has also pulled every stunt to block immigration reform on the federal level.
By far, the biggest GOP donor on the list is James, or “Jim” Click Jr. — president of the Jim Click Automotive Team and Director of Compass Bancshares Inc. In 2008, he donated over $125,000 almost exclusively to Republican candidates (with the exception of a couple thousand dollars that went to an organization called “Compass Bancshares Inc. PAC”). Then, during the 2010 election cycle, Click donated another $123,900 to GOP politicians running for office. Beneficiaries included such anti-immigrant candidates such as Jesse Kelly (R-AZ), Carly Fiorina (R-CA), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and the Pima County Republican Party. Meanwhile, Jim Click’s wife — Vicki Click — is listed as donating over $120,000 to GOP candidates herself.
The Clicks aren’t the only big Republican donors who opposed the immigration laws that were considered last week. Lee Hanley, CEO of Vestar Development Co. donated well over $130,000 to Republican candidates and conservative causes, including Nevada tea party candidate Sharron Angle. Earl Petznick Jr., president and CEO of Northside Hay Co. has donated over $35,000 to Republican candidates.
Many of these donations were made after the Arizona Republican Party rammed the state’s controversial immigration law — SB-1070 — through the state legislature. All of the donations were made well after the GOP killed comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level in 2007. Although a small handful of the individuals who signed off on last week’s letter did contribute to Democrats who oppose the bills that have been moving through the state legislature, it’s no secret that a large segment of the business community has failed to prioritize its own immigration platform and instead rallied around enforcement-only Republican candidates.
Coming out publicly against the terrible immigration measures last week was a great first step. Yet, in politics, money always seems to speak louder than words and these business leaders are going to have to start putting that money where their mouths are if they really intend on slowing down Arizona’s self-proclaimed Tea Party Senate and the conservative House of Representatives for good. Meanwhile, it will take a lot more than a letter to convince those lawmakers that they are betting off “pressing the federal government for meaningful immigration reform.”