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Quelland says he’ll challenge removal from House

While the Citizens Clean Elections Commission was voting on May 15 to remove Rep. Doug Quelland from office, the north Phoenix lawmaker was hitting the links in a legislative golf tournament.

He didn’t bother to provide a reason for his absence from the May 15 hearing.

Last week, though, Quelland told reporters he will appeal the commission’s decision to the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings. He said the Clean Elections regulatory process is tilted against the accused, and he will only get a fair hearing before an administrative law judge.

“Regulatory commissions are not about due process,” he said moments after a House of Representatives floor session on May 19. “They’re about what the commission wants.”

After six months of review and investigation, commission members determined that Quelland had illegally entered into a $15,000 contract with Intermedia Public Affairs for campaign services that went undocumented in his financial reports to election officials.

Now, Quelland has the option of remaining in office while he appeals the commission’s decision. After that, he could choose to continue the challenge in trial court and beyond.

If the appeal effort fails, the process of finding his replacement will begin with Secretary of State Ken Bennett officially notifying the Republican Party of the resulting vacancy in the House for District 10.

After that, Republican precinct committeemen would have five days to nominate three possible replacements. The Maricopa County Board of Superiors would then select a replacement from among those candidates.

Quelland said the opportunity to appeal will allow him traditional legal options of discovery, which enables all parties in lawsuits to examine witnesses and documents and to obtain as much evidence as possible.

Clean Elections Executive Director Todd Lang said the agency’s regulatory process is fair, open and pays painstaking attention to detail.

“We certainly welcomed Representative Quelland to provide any information that he thought may have exonerated him,” said Lang, adding that he and commission staff “agonized” over the prospect of recommending the removal of an elected legislator.

The lawmaker did provide the commission with some documents and his version of events since the mid-December beginning of the investigation into his 2008 campaign finances. But Lang said Quelland’s side of the story “didn’t check out.”

The Clean Elections Commission, acting on Lang’s recommendation, also fined Quelland a total of $45,500, specifically citing four violations. The commission determined he had signed a $15,000 campaign consulting contract without having that amount of cash on hand in his campaign accounts, had failed to report the contract and had violated primary election spending limits by greater than 10 percent.

Each of those charges brought fines of $15,000 each. Quelland was fined an additional $500 for using money from his private businesses in a campaign for office.

Prior to the vote, Lang presented commissioners with newly obtained evidence connecting Quelland to Intermedia Public Relations, a political consulting firm operated by Larry Davis.

Lang showed commissioners e-mail communications between Quelland and an employee of Davis proving the business relationship extended well into 2008. To date, Quelland has maintained he terminated his contract with Intermedia Public Affairs within days of its March 2007 signing.

Commission members were also shown a photocopy of a $2,000 business account check written by Quelland to Davis’ firm that coincided with the contract’s initial payment amount and its May 1, 2007, due date. In April, Quelland told commission members the payment never existed, and he said the lack of that specific evidence stood as proof the contract was terminated and never honored.

In addition, Davis’ firm was authorized to use Quelland’s campaign credit card for a year, said Lang, who also displayed an August 2008 e-mail from Quelland to Intermedia Public Relations regarding the design of campaign fliers.

“This contract was enforced,” Lang told commissioners.

Lang said he expects the commission will defend its decision before an administrative law judge, unless Quelland is able to introduce new evidence that adds credibility to his contention that the contract with Intermedia Public Relations had not been carried out.

Quelland said he intends to clear his name by the next legislative session begins in January. He wouldn’t provide other details of his plans, speaking mostly in generalities and urging reporters to examine Davis’ personal and business history.

“When the dominoes fall, they’ll fall hard,” Quelland said.

Quelland has 30 days to appeal the action against him. If he does, the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings would issue a recommendation to support or oppose the commission’s decision.

From there, the commission can vote to abide by or reject the recommendation. And Quelland would be permitted to appeal to a trial court judge and the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The Arizona Supreme Court would have discretion to hear any appeal of a ruling reached by the lower appellate court. But there is already one case on the books regarding removal from office of a sitting lawmaker, one that went before the state Supreme Court in 2006.

In March 2005, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission ordered the removal of District 7 Rep. David Burnell Smith, who was found to have exceeded his 2004 primary campaign spending limits by 17 percent.

Smith, who once pledged to “plunge a dagger into the heart of Clean Elections,” appealed to the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings, and later to the Maricopa County Superior Court, the Arizona Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court.

He lost every step of the way, and the state’s highest court ordered that he be removed from office by midnight of January 26, 2006. The court’s ruling made Smith the first legislator in the nation to be removed from office for campaign finance violations.

Smith’s argument: The appointed commission simply did not have the authority to remove a democratically elected sitting legislator. That power, he argued, was limited by the state Constitution to two means: impeachment and voter recall.

Smith’s challenge against the commission’s authority presented a difficult question for supporters of Arizona’s system of publicly funded campaigns and others that either philosophically abhorred the idea of public campaign financing or grudgingly accepted it.

At risk was the commission’s powerful deterrent to dissuade publicly funded candidates from simply supplementing their public campaign funds with money from their own assets or from other sources.

Incidentally, attorney Lee Miller, who is representing Quelland, also represented Smith for a time during his battle against the Clean Elections system.

Smith’s claim against the commission was resolved in May 2006, months after he was ordered removed from office, when the state Supreme Court released its opinion.

The Supreme Court held that the constitutional means for removal were not exclusive, and that lawmakers, or citizens using their legislatively ability through ballot measures, were free to devise other ways to force lawmakers from office.

“[T]hat constitutional provision was intended to protect the public by making it easier to remove public officers, not to protect malfeasing public servants,” Justice Rebecca White Berch wrote at the time.

Mike Valder, who played a key fundraising role in the 1998 ballot initiative campaign that established publicly funded campaigns in Arizona, told commission members at the May 15 hearing that they should remove Quelland from office even though the representative has been an outspoken advocate of Arizona’s system of publicly funded elections.

Valder said his recommendation gave him “great heartburn,” but that the case against Quelland was strong enough to warrant removal. The lawmaker’s repeated denials of campaign overspending and his role in a “conspiracy” should also be taken into account by the Attorney General’s Office, which could bring criminal charges, he said.

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