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The self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America is trying to harness political powers beyond the boundaries of Arizona by launching a political action committee to raise money for federal candidates who share his views on immigration enforcement and other issues.

The formation of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's political action committee came as three Republican presidential hopefuls and other GOP candidates across the country seek his endorsement.

Chad Willems, chairman of Arpaio's committee known as JoePAC, said the five-term sheriff wants to play a more active role in congressional and U.S. Senate races across the country. Election law prohibits him from pulling money out of his own re-election account to contribute to those candidates.

"He really wants to step it up in this coming election cycle," Willems said, adding that the PAC will let Arpaio make direct contributions to federal candidates and pay for ads that advocate his views on any given issue.

Arizona Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said Republicans seeking Arpaio's endorsement should be aware that a federal grand jury is investigating allegations that he abused his powers and that the sheriff's office is the subject of a civil rights investigation that Arpaio said is focused on his immigration efforts.

"Republicans who cozy up to Arpaio may get more than they bargained for," Johnson said.

Willems responded, "You let the political market determine that, and it hasn't stopped candidates from asking for his endorsement."

GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have called Arpaio seeking his endorsement. Arpaio has said he hasn't yet made up his mind, though he endorsed Romney over Sen. John McCain in Arizona's 2008 Republican presidential primary.

Willems said Arpaio's PAC has a goal of raising $1 million and noted that the sheriff's own re-election committee has raised $6 million.

Last year, an ally of Arpaio set up an independent political committee that bears the sheriff's name and said its goal was to mount a public relations response to Arpaio's critics. It was organized as a 527 group after the tax code provision that gives it tax-exempt status.

On election night in November 2010, the Defend Sheriff Joe group ran a TV commercial that said illegal immigrants were invading the United States and that the Obama administration had sued the sheriff.

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