Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Fiesta Bowl Scandal and Russell Pearce

The news that a number of Arizona politicos may have improperly accepted gifts and illegal campaign contributions broke this week with the release of a report from the Fiesta Bowl investigating its own practices.

The investigators examined a number of campaign finance reports looking for contributions from Fiesta Bowl employees that were later reimbursed by the organization.  They also looked at Fiesta Bowl records to determine where, when, and how much was spent to influence public officials.

A few (7?) Democrats (Harry Mitchell, Linda Lopez, Ben Arredondo, etc.) were implicated in one or another aspect of the burgeoning scandal, as were a large number of Republicans (25+), both electeds (Russell Pearce, Carolyn Allen, Thayer Verschoor, etc.) and behind-the-scenes "fixers" - aka "lobbyists" or "consultants" (Chuck Coughlin, Doug Cole, Gary Husk, etc.).

As I'm not a lawyer, I'm not qualified to comment on the legal implications for the politicos implicated.  However, I can speak a little bit about the political implications for the electeds.

Many, such as Ds Mitchell and Mary Manross (former mayor of Scottsdale) and Rs Verschoor and Allen, aren't in office right now and may not seek office again, so the political impact will be minimal.

Note: I've been told that, at least, neither Manross nor Allen are interested in future runs for office, but that info is many months old, and may have changed.

A few of the others have quietly reimbursed the Fiesta Bowl for any "gifts" that they received but most are otherwise maintaining a low profile, waiting to see how this develops.

However, Senate President Russell Pearce (R-Blacklist) has never been known for being quiet.

Or even for learning lessons from the missteps of others.

His colleague and ally, Senate majority leader Scott Bundgaard was involved in a domestic violence incident in February, which was bad enough.

However, Bundgaard aggravated the scandal when he just wouldn't shut up, issuing press releases left and right, blaming his now ex-girlfriend and pleading for everyone to respect his privacy, to concocting a story that his ex pulled a gun on him (one that turned out to be his own) in spite of a police report that doesn't mention a gun anywhere in it.

Now, he's no longer Senate majority leader, and his political future is murky at best (OK, he's probably toast in the next primary, but journalists, even quasi-journalists like bloggers, have "weasel word" standards to meet :) ).

Pearce obviously hasn't been paying attention to Bungaard's mishandling of his own misconduct.

Pearce has claimed that he paid for his own tickets to some of the football games for which the Fiesta Bowl groups organized legislative junkets.

From the Arizona Republic article, written by Ginger Rough and Alia Beard Rau, linked to "news" above -
Pearce had been mostly silent on his involvement until Friday, when he told The Republic that he had paid for his tickets and that he was "very disappointed" in the bowl and its activities.

Asked when he paid for his tickets, Pearce said: "Immediately, at the time."

But Pearce's comments conflict with a portion of the report that states Fiesta Bowl employees paid for, and then were reimbursed by the bowl for, non-Fiesta Bowl tickets given to Pearce in 2007 and 2008.

Now, not having access to Pearce's personal financial records (or anyone else's, for that matter), I cannot state unequivocally that Pearce did not pay for the tickets himself.  However, based on public records, I can say that he definitely didn't report a junket and a game in 2005 (page 178 of the Fiesta Bowl report) in his 2006 Financial Disclosure Statement, covering the 2005 calendar year.

Submitted in early January 2006 and amended at the end of January 2006, he reported gifts valued in excess of $500 from the American Legislative Exchange Council, Republican Club of (illegible), Western Growers Association, Brookings Institute, and NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures).

Nothing related to the Fiesta Bowl or college football was reported.


Here are some relevent financial disclosure reports for the electeds named in the report as being part of the 2005 trip, courtesy the Center for Public Integrity (the reports cover the prior calendar year) -

Pearce 2005 2004 2003 2002

Bob Blendu 2006 2005 2004

Linda Lopez 2006 2005 2004

Linda Aguirre 2006 2005 2004

Of the four named specifically, only two are still legislators.

 Linda Lopez reported the trip in her 2006 disclosure. 

Pearce?  Not a mention.


There's also a sign that perhaps investigators should not have looked at only reports of campaign contributions, but also at reported expenses.

On page 179 of the Fiesta Bowl report, a junket to Boston was documented, one that Pearce attended.  Part of the junket: a college football game between Boston College and Virginia Tech on October 18.

In Russell Pearce's post-general election campaign finance report from 2008, covering October 16 thru November 24 of that year, he reported a "miscellaneous" expenditure of $675.00, dated November 4, 2008.

If that one turns out to be junket-related, it could be problematical for Pearce - he accepted Clean Elections funding that year, and they take a rather dim view of candidates who use the money in ways that are other than directly related to the campaign.

To be fair, the Fiesta Bowl investigators were mostly interested in the activities of their own organization, not those of the elected officials.

Future investigators, both journalistic and law enforcement, will certainly pay more attention to how the electeds reported their associations with the Fiesta Bowl.

The upshot of it all is that everyone involved is hoping this blows over, that current events distract the public from the past misconduct - the business administrators of college football don't want investigations of the other bowls, who almost certainly operate in a manner similar to the Fiesta Bowl, and the electeds don't want to be on the receiving end of any political repercussions.

Does anyone think it's a coincidence that the report was released during the final week of the NCAA basketball tournament, when college sports fans, even casual ones, are thoroughly focused on that?

Or that the House this week rushed through a horrific budget allowing them to end the legislative session and get out of town and out of the reach of reporters, as quickly as possible?

Tedski at Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion offers his perspective on this mess here; AZBlueMeanie of Blog for Arizona has his here.

Note:  The Center for Public Integrity only has the financial disclosure reports for the first half of the decade.  I could not find the reports from later in the decade online, and the Republic story reports that they are having difficulty obtaining those reports from the Secretary of State's office. 

Anybody really surprised by that?

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