The Citizens Clean Elections Commission has postponed a decision that could result in the removal from office of Rep. Doug Quelland, buying commissioners more time to unravel a soured relationship between the north Phoenix Republican and a Valley political consultant.
After three hours of hearing testimony on April 30, several members of the commission said they were no closer to determining whether Quelland unlawfully hired and paid a campaign consultant to operate his 2008 campaign for the Arizona House of Representatives.
So far, Quelland and consultant Larry Davis, owner of Intermedia Public Relations, have given vastly differing accounts of what occurred after they agreed to a $15,000 contract in March 2007 for campaign services to help the lawmaker in his bid for office last year.
The heart of the conflict is whether Davis provided campaign services for Quelland and whether he was paid for those services — payment that, if it was indeed made, went unreported on Quelland’s campaign finance reports.
Quelland said he terminated the contract with the company within days after becoming disillusioned with Davis’ claims he could raise $100,000 or more for the race and the consultant’s desire to fight dirty against incumbent Democrat Jackie Thrasher. He says he made no campaign related payments to Davis’ firm.
Davis, however, argued that he and his company provided a multitude of services for duration of the campaign, such as collecting nominating signatures, designing campaign signs and T-shirts and building and administering Quelland’s Web site.
He says he was paid the full $15,000 through a combination of checks from Quelland’s business and reduced rates for the renting of an office space at a strip mall owned by the representative.
“Everything here is a mess,” said Commissioner Louis Hoffman, a co-author of the Clean Elections Act. “Clearly, somebody here is lying.”
The inquiry into Quelland’s 2008 campaign finances was initiated by the commission in December following the November filing of a complaint by District 10 resident and Democrat activist Carol Vandercook, who charged that Quelland had violated state campaign finance laws.
The April 30 hearing was intended to be the final step in the four-month investigation, but a majority of the commissioners voted to delay a decision. The next Clean Elections Commission meeting is scheduled for May 14, but at least one commissioner said it would be better to wrap up the matter before that date.
Todd Lang, executive director of the Clean Elections Commission, recommended immediate action and provided a list of potential sanctions that could be taken against Quelland. He told the commissioners on several occasions the dispute between the candidate and consultant was “factual,” and that a clear, precise version of events in this case would be extremely elusive.
“You will never know with absolute certainty what happened here,” he said.
However, Lang said there was plenty of evidence to conclude that Davis and Intermedia Public Relations provided a variety of campaign functions for Quelland well after the contested March termination of the contract.
Lang also reminded commissioners that a $15,000 contract that goes unreported to election officials would be sufficient to invoke a state law that allows the removal of officials who overspend their publicly funded campaigns by more than 10 percent.
Lang pointed out that Intermedia Public Relations arranged for several printing projects for campaign T-shirts, fliers and magnets, and held numerous “community breakfast” fundraisers that Quelland could somehow not recall, yet coincided with reported contributions the campaign had received.
In addition, several recovered checks from Quelland’s business to Davis’ company were written on the first of each month and for the exact amount as stipulated in the contract, Lang said. Davis’ firm also used one of Quelland’s campaign credit cards to make purchases on behalf of the campaign, he said.
“He was more than a hanger-on,” Lang told commissioners. “His company had (Quelland’s) credit card.”
Quelland, who defeated Democrat Thrasher in the District 10 House race, said he did not know what prompted the filing of the post-election complaint, but that he would use the truth to defend himself from accusations that he secretly used money from his businesses to supplement his Clean Elections funding.
“Politics, I’ve learned, is not for people with thin skin and those that can’t get knives out of their backs,” he said.
Quelland acknowledged he paid Davis thousands of dollars, but he has insisted the payment was for months of work by Davis to blanket the neighborhoods surrounding Quelland’s north Phoenix strip mall with coupons and advertisements.
Quelland delivered his response to the commissioners after Lang’s presentation, citing his continued commitment to Arizona’s system of publicly funded campaigns while bemoaning its “dark side” that allows the filing of complaints that leave candidates without recourse.
Quelland noted that through subpoeanas the commission was unable to find any evidence of an initial $2,000 payment to Davis, which was clearly stipulated in the contract. He called the issue of “paramount importance” to his defense and proof that he did not pay the consultant for campaign services.
“Why would I report this obligation if I didn’t owe, didn’t pay it?” he said, adding he did not believe the contract was of importance to the commission because it was terminated before his official decision to run as a publicly funded candidate.
Davis said Quelland paid him using a combination of free rent and checks written from Quelland’s business. Davis rented space in Quelland’s strip mall.
Quelland, however, said he allowed Davis to store books in a small, unused office space while waiting for another business in the mall to vacate the premises — a gesture he hoped would help secure Davis as a mall tenant while the economy struggles.
“I never gave him free rent,” Quelland told commissioners. “As I explained to the Attorney General’s Office, in order for there to be free rent there needs to be a lease.”
Quelland said a check written to him by Davis had bounced and the would-be consultant became embarrassed and angered and sought to “sink me; to do me in.”
Following Quelland’s request that the commission drop the inquiry into his campaign, Commissioner Lori Daniels questioned why the lawmaker failed to secure a written statement from Davis declaring his acceptance of the contract’s termination.
The representative said that safeguard had “not occurred” to him, and the response drew a stare from Daniels, who replied that Quelland’s claims that Davis was only a campaign volunteer does not “hold credence.”
Commissioner Hoffman said he was troubled by the fact that Davis was still unable to prove that Quelland had received invoices demanding payment for the campaign services. Likewise, Quelland was also unable to prove, he said, that he had delivered to Davis any notice of termination of
Hoffman also said he was troubled because Davis was unable to produce any e-mails or communications from Quelland’s campaign that clearly acknowledge his paid role in the campaign.
“It seems odd to me there’s no documentation of a campaign manager being a campaign manager,” he said.
Daniels initiated the meeting with a request to table the enforcement measure against Quelland in order to allow the commission staff to collect more information and allow the commission members more time to make a decision.
Thrasher, who Quelland defeated by less than 600 votes to fill the district’s second seat in the House, said she could understand the commission’s desire to be deliberate.
“Truthfully, because of Mr. Quelland’s alleged cheating, it’s possible I could have won,” she said. “We don’t know that, but if I had an extra $15,000 that I could have played with, could that vote total be narrowed a little? I lost by 553 votes — six-tenths of one percent.”
If Quelland is found to have exceeded his combined primary and general campaign spending limits by greater than 10 percent, he could become the second Arizona lawmaker to be removed from office for campaign finance violations.
On Jan. 26, 2006, Rep. David Burnell Smith was ordered by the Arizona Supreme Court to vacate his office by midnight after fighting a lengthy court battle that tested the authority of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to remove incumbent lawmakers.
Smith was found to have exceeded his 2004 primary spending limit by greater than 10 percent and his departure marked him as the first legislator in the United States to be removed from office for a campaign finance-related offense.
Capitol Times Writer Christian Palmer originally broke the stories about the complaint against Quelland and the ensuing Clean Elections investigation. To read Palmer's past coverage of Quelland, click on the dated links below:
February 10 – Quelland paid Davis, but was it for campaign work?
January 10 – Seven banks ordered to turn over Quelland records
December 19, 2008 – Clean Elections to probe Quelland campaign spending
December 15, 2008 – Clean Elections to meet on Quelland complaint
December 4, 2008 – More records filed regarding complaint against Quelland
November 24, 2008 – Quelland disputes claims in complaint, hires attorney
November 21, 2008 – Complaint could threaten Quelland election to House
November 17, 2008 – Complaint alleges Quelland violated campaign finance law
November 5, 2008 – Republicans likely to add seats in state House, Senate