BY CHRISTOPHER CONOVER AND ANDREA KELLY Arizona Public Media

(Editor's note: Updated Oct. 24, 2011 to include information from U.S. Senate campaigns.)

Election Day for the U.S. House and Senate is still more than a year away, but the candidates are working in campaign mode.

Committees for incumbents and challengers are actively raising and spending money in advance of the full election season.

That’s according to campaign finance reports filed by candidates with the Federal Election Commission. The FEC this week released the latest round of quarterly reports.

In July, Arizona Public Media looked at the campaign finance reports for local candidates with a particular eye on spending.

As candidates continue to prepare for 2012 elections, political action committees, known as PACs, are playing an ever bigger role in campaign funding, including in many Arizona races.

ARIZONA CAMPAIGN FINANCE SUMMARY

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat representing District 8, raised $189,587 in the third quarter. Her campaign spent $97,600 and has $878,936 cash on hand. Neither Giffords nor her staff has indicated whether she will run for another term, as she continues to recover from a Jan. 8 assassination attempt.

Republican state Sen. Frank Antenori has filed paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service to form an exploratory committee for a congressional run in Giffords’ current district. He has not filed reports with the IRS on his exploratory committee’s fund-raising or expenses.

Additionally, Antenori does not know what district he will run in because the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has not finalized district lines for the 2012 election cycle.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the Democrat representing District 7, raised $47,752 between July 1 and Sept. 30. His campaign spent $58,341 and has $59,389 in the bank.

Grijalva’s Republican challenger, Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, raised $34,678 in the same time period. She had $29,545 in expenses and has $5,133 left in her account.

The Congressional District 6 seat held by Republican Rep. Jeff Flake will be open next year because Flake is running for U.S. Senate. Fund-raising in that district is split among several GOP candidates competing for the party nomination.

Former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, a Republican, raised $110,780 in the quarter for that race. His expenses totaled $38,099, and he has $281,916 in his campaign account.

In the same race, Republican Matt Salmon raised $158,136 and spent $87,544 in the third quarter. Salmon has $226,336.51 cash on hand.

Chuck Gray, also competing for the Republican nomination in District 6, raised $9,015 in the third quarter. He spent $8,552 and has $16,937 on hand.

Republican Travis Granthan brought in $65,575 in the quarter. His expenses totaled $40,854, and at the end of the reporting period he had $135,461 in the bank.

In Northern Arizona’s Congressional District 1, first-term Republican Rep. Paul Gosar raised $140,783 between July and September. He spent $103,654 and has $235,371 on hand.

Gosar’s challenger, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, lost the seat to him in 2010 and began campaigning again almost immediately. She raised $211,915 in the third quarter and spent $94,574. Kirkpatrick’s cash on hand is $215,723.

Republican U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl announced earlier this year that he is not running for reelection, which creates a rare open Senate seat. The race is quickly getting crowded with more people still debating whether they will get into the race.

The fund-raising front-runner is Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake. In the last quarter he raised $556,385. Of that, $94,209 was from PACs with the rest coming from individual contributions. Flake also spent $241,118 and had $2.3 million in his campaign account.

Republican Senate candidate Wil Cardon lent his campaign $815,709 and raised $402,387 from individual donors. He reported no PAC money. Cardon spent $83,022, mostly on consultants, in the third quarter. He has $1.1 million on hand.

Lesser-known Republican Douglas McKee is also in the race. He raised $11,925 and gave himself an additional $14,425. Most of his donations came from the Bullhead City area. He spent $15, 203 and has $11,146 in his campaign account.

Don Bivens, the only Democrat in the race, raised $344,503 in his first quarter as a candidate. A good portion of that money came through donations to ActBlue, a political action committee. Bivens spent $59,686 and has $284,817 on hand.

OBSCURING THE NAMES

The link between fund-raising and politicians first came to public awareness in the 1830s, when concerns were raised on a national scale. In fits and starts since then, Congress has worked on reform. Following the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, one major push was for more transparency – who gives money to candidates.

The campaign finance reports available today list the names of donors, but there are ways to make that information more difficult to find.

“Now what we’re seeing is you don’t give directly to a candidate,” says Norman J. Ornstein, a research scholar and campaign finance expert with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. “You give to somebody else, who give to gives to somebody else, and then they find ways to coordinate all that.”

Donors can give money to a PAC and specify that the money is to go to a certain candidate. Those donations show up on the candidate’s finance reports, but they appear as a donation from the committee with a note saying that the money was given as an earmark for the candidate.

WHAT IS A PAC?

A Political Action Committee refers to a specific type of organization that can get involved in politics. There are some legal restrictions for these groups. Here’s a summary of four kinds of political committees:

Political Action Committee (PAC): These organizations are regulated by the Federal Election Commission and must disclose their donors. They can give money directly to candidates, make independent expenditures (buy ads, send mailers) and coordinate with candidate or a political party.

Leadership PAC: A political action committee established by a member of Congress to support other candidates. Leadership PACs cannot give money to their sponsor but can give money to candidates. The Federal Election Commission regulates these just like a PAC, with limits on donations to candidates.

Super PAC: These organizations are also regulated by the Federal Election Commission and must disclose their donors, but there is no limit on the amount a Super PAC can raise or spend in any election. They are not allowed to coordinate with a campaign or a political party, and they can’t donate directly to a candidate.

527 organization: This is not a PAC and is not regulated by the Federal Election Commission, but instead files through the Internal Revenue Service. The tax code designation 527 applies to an organization created specifically to influence elections, but the groups cannot coordinate directly with candidates or political parties. These organizations operate with no limit on their fund-raising or spending.

Joint Fund-raising Committee: Two or more political committees working together to raise money for candidates and campaigns. These committees must disclose whom they are fund raising for and how the donations to the joint committee will be split among the beneficiaries. They must report spending and income to the Federal Election Commission.

The Federal Election Commission sets limits on donations for individuals, parties and PACs.

Individuals can give up to $2,500 to a candidate in a single election cycle, up to $30,800 to a national party each year, and up to $10,000 to a state party each year.

A person can give up to $5,000 to a PAC each year, and a PAC can give up to $5,000 to a single candidate each election cycle. A PAC can give up to $15,000 to a party each year, and a national party committee can give $5,000 to a candidate in a single year.

TOP PACS

Almost half of the 50 PACs that give the most money to candidates and campaigns in the first half of 2011 have given money to Arizona candidates in the last three months.

In four of Arizona’s congressional districts, 24 of the 50 top-spending PACs support Arizona candidates. The PAC giving the most money to candidates nationwide is Act Blue, a PAC that aims to elect Democrats in any state and federal office throughout the country.

Data from the Federal Election Commission shows PACs are increasingly raising and contributing more money to elections throughout the country.

One example in Arizona is the Democratic PAC, Act Blue. Act Blue played a role in Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s fundraising. Her campaign finance report showed almost 10 percent of her income is from PAC contributions, $1,301 of which came from individuals through Act Blue.

Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Don Bivens also got donations through Act Blue, totaling $85,760.

On the Republican side, Flake brought in nearly $100,000 from PACs in the last quarter. Much of that money came through leadership PACs. He also received $108,228 in pass-through donations from the Club for Growth.

The Club for Growth website says it supports “prosperity and opportunity through economic freedom.”. Like the Democrat’s ActBlue, the Club for Growth uses its website to solicit donors for specific candidates. Flake is one of five candidates currently listed on the Club for Growth website.

Adding to Flake’s PAC total were donations from The Good Government Fund, a Joint Fundraising Committee. The Good Government Fund funneled $29,709 to Flake and is also raising funds for three other campaigns as well as U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s leadership PAC known as KPAC.

Some candidates, like Giffords, are meticulous in their record keeping. Her campaign filings always list the name of the individual who made a “pass through” donation to a PAC. Others list the donation and note that is a pass through, but don’t disclose the name of the donor.

Ornstein said that level of research is part of the problem.

“It makes it that much harder for anybody to figure out who’s giving this money, for citizens and voters to be able to decide if somebody’s being bought along the way,” he said.

The donors are listed in the PACs’ own filings, through a search for the candidate. The information must be cross-referenced between the reports for the candidate and the PACs. The pass-through practice is common enough that PACs list themselves as “conduits.”

Other PACs fund raise from members of business organizations and then give money to politicians who represent those interests, such as the National Association of Realtors or the Dealers Election Action Committee, which represents and gets funds from car dealers.

Some of the top-spending PACs supporting Arizona campaigns include the Dealers Election Action Committee, which spent $5,000 each on Gosar and Salmon.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a union of municipal employees, including Pima County workers, gave $5,000 to Giffords and $2,500 to Grijalva in the most recent quarter. Others include the American Society of Anesthesiologists PAC, which gave $1,000 to Gosar and $4,000 to Adams. The AT&T Federal PAC gave $1,000 each to Gosar and Grijalva and $2,500 to Salmon.

Arizona PACs are also giving to many candidates. The Arizona Dairymen gave $2,500 each to Gosar, Adams and Salmon. The Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association Political Involvement Committee gave from $500 to $1,000 in this latest spending report to Adams, Gosar, Grijlava and Salmon.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

One of the complaints about campaign funding is that money buys access and favors from politicians. Campaign finance records can reveal connections between politicians and special interest groups, but those connections don’t necessarily indicate a violation of campaign finance laws or other forms of corruption.

In this last reporting period, Grijalva received donations from the National Rural Letter Carriers Association and the National Postal Mail Handler’s Union. In May, Grijalva signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill dealing with pensions for postal workers. The money came in months after Grijalva signed onto the bill, along with hundreds of other members of Congress. There is no direct evidence that the two are tied together.

In another example, Giffords received a donation from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America as a pass-through from AmeriPac. Giffords’ congressional district includes Sonoita, a wine-producing community in Southern Arizona. A search of the AmeriPac records doesn’t show any donations from Sonoita-area wine producers in recent months.

Campaign finance laws continue to evolve, and a Supreme Court decision last year opened the door to more PAC spending. Fundraising reports from Arizona campaigns show political organizations are influencing election fund-raising, even in a non-election year.

READ THE FINANCE REPORTS

Ann Kirkpatrick's campaign finance reports

Paul Gosar's campaign finance reports

Kirk Adams' campaign finance reports

Matt Salmon's campaign finance reports

Chuck Gray's campaign finance reports

Travis Grantham's campaign finance reports

Raúl Grijalva's campaign finance reports

Gabriela Saucedo Mercer's campaign finance reports

Gabrielle Giffords' campaign finance reports

Don Bivens' campaign finance reports

Jeff Flake's campaign finance reports

Wil Cardon's campaign finance reports

Douglas McKee's campaign finance reports

Arizona Public Media\\u0027s Political Reporters Andrea Kelly (left) and Christopher Conover (right) Explain Campaign Finance on Arizona Illustrated.