It was front-page news more than two years ago when Arizona tea party darling Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) announced that he was setting up a website to solicit donations from goobers nationwide, in order to build a fence along the Mexican border. At his press conference in July 2011, Smith said he'd raise $50 million to build 200 miles of fence! (More than 320 miles of Arizona's 376-mile border with Mexico is already fenced, but most of the existing wall is not the huge 18-foot variety Smith envisioned—thus the redundancy.)
Oh, it was a scene, man. Some of Arizona's most visible haters stood alongside Sen. Smith during the announcement: among them Sen. Russell Pearce (since recalled) and Attorney General Tom Horne (since de-fanged). As one might expect, within days Sen. Smith became a star on Fox News, fear-mongering over the border and bragging up the "outrageous" support his cockamamy scheme had received.
However, before the state could accept donations from private citizens, Sen. Smith had to run a bill (SB 1406) through the Arizona Legislature. Given Arizona's 2:1 Republican majority in both chambers, and pinhead Brewer in the Gov's seat, that was not a difficult task and SB 1406 passed.
It mattered little to Arizona's GOP that the bill did not stipulate where, when or how the fence would be built; nor were they concerned that the fence would likely cross sacred tribal land and interrupt sensitive ecological zones. And, of course, few Republicans cared that a combination of Obama's stepped-up border security and the recession had reduced border crime and cut immigration to net-zero. None of that mattered because their tea party buddy Sen. Smith had a fancy website!
At his 2011 presser the senator waxed poetically about the many crazies across the nation who'd pitch in a few bucks to protect little old ladies in Sun City from scary brown rapists, not to mention his wall would stop Hezbollah and other terrorist groups from infiltrating Arizona. Yeah, the website still says that. And, in fact, within two days of the website's launch, the state collected nearly $80,000! But here is what I wrote at the time:
Here's betting that by this time next week the site is pulling in a couple grand, by this time next month it'll be drawing less than I got for weekly allowance, and by this time next year people will be asking, "What border fence website? Oh, you mean those couple hundred thousand bucks they used to build that 20-foot-long wall near Naco?"Within days of Sen. Smith's announcement, people started to question his math. First, it costs between $2 million and $7 million to build a mile of fence, so there is no way the state can erect 200 miles with $50 million, even if Arizona had it. Smith's response was that the federal projections were overblown (he said $400,000 per mile) and he'd use inmate labor anyway, thus cutting costs significantly. Okaaay...
But then, after the initial brouhaha, donations started to dry up. In fact, after that $80,000 surge in the first two days, more than a year later the website had collect less than twice that amount: $158,430.
When it became clear that, at this pace, Sen. Smith would be dead and buried for several centuries before his website raked in $50 million, he said he'd accept chain link fence and other donated material from Home Depot and similar businesses, in order to offset the cash shortage. No, that didn't work either. Then Sen. Smith scaled down the length: from 200 miles to 20 miles to a symbolic one mile. Still, it takes more than $2 million to build a mile of fence, and as of today the site has collected $193,000, less than 10 percent of the amount needed for Smith's symbolic mile.
The committee that's supposed to oversee the progress of the privately funded border fence hasn't even met in more than a year, so this April Sen. Smith said we could expect news about a revived attempt to finish the job. And then ... nothing. So, it was no surprise that we learned this today, although not from the senator himself:
Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista says the main backer has given up on the plan and hopes to transfer the money to border sheriffs. Stevens says fellow Republican Rep. Steve Smith of Maricopa realizes enough private money to get the job done can't be raised.Too bad Sen. Smith hasn't "given up" on his legislative seat. I imagine he still has a garage-full of fancy certificates:
About $2.8 million is needed to build a mile of fencing, but only about 10 percent of that has been raised. Lawmakers at first wanted to build 200 miles of fencing.
Smith said concerned citizens who donate online will receive an official numbered certificate from the State of Arizona thanking them for their support. "So be sure to donate quickly to get one of the first certificates," Smith said.Act quickly, folks! They're going fast. Not.