An Arizona Senate Ethics Committee review found some lawmakers may have violated state law by improperly accepting free football game tickets from the Fiesta Bowl, Chairman Ron Gould said Thursday.
However, Gould told The Associated Press that he is temporarily refraining from taking further action because he doesn’t want to taint a criminal investigation being conducted by Maricopa County prosecutors.
In a related development, Senate President Russell Pearce released copies of canceled checks and other documents that he said show a “clear pattern of compliance” with state laws restricting acceptance of gifts and of making reimbursements to the Fiesta Bowl for game tickets.
Pearce released the material one day after the bowl was fined $1 million by a bowl consortium for apparent illegal campaign contributions and inappropriate spending.
The Bowl Championship Series presidential oversight committee, which made the decision Wednesday, also attached several other conditions as it let the Fiesta Bowl remain part of the system for deciding college football’s national champion. They included steps to strengthen the Fiesta Bowl’s board along with greater supervision of executives to make sure the problems are not repeated, according to materials obtained by The Associated Press.
Gould launched his committee’s staff review of lawmaker’s financial disclosure reports and other documents after the Fiesta Bowl released an internal report in March.
The report detailed a wide array of improper spending by bowl officials, questionable gifts to curry favor from public officials and illegal reimbursement of some bowl personnel for campaign contributions to politicians.
The Fiesta Bowl report detailed about $45,000 in reimbursements to employees for political donations, an apparent violation of federal and state laws. It also revealed lavish and inappropriate spending, such as $33,000 for a Pebble Beach, Calif., birthday bash for then-CEO and President John Junker, $13,000 for the wedding and honeymoon of an aide, and a $1,200 strip club tab for Junker and two others. Junker has been fired.
Gould said he discussed his committee’s review with County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who expressed concern that possible criminal cases could be jeopardized if senators are compelled to testify in an ethics proceeding.
“The flip side is they probably wouldn’t testify anyway unless I give them immunity and I don’t want to do that,” said Gould, a Lake Havasu City Republican.
Montgomery spokesman Jerry Cobb declined to comment, citing the open investigation.
Arizona legislators can accept free travel but must report it. They generally cannot accept tickets to sports and entertainment events unless the entire Legislature, an entire chamber or an entire committee is invited.
Gould declined to specify how many lawmakers have been implicated in possible illegal acceptance of game tickets but said that the number is “not a whole bunch.”
Gould said next step — which is on hold — would be to send letters seeking explanations from the current or former senators involved.
Gould said possible Senate Ethics Committee proceedings now center on acceptance of free tickets because it appears that nearly all the lawmakers who accepted free trips from the Fiesta Bowl have now amended their financial disclosure reports to include the trips.
He also said he is unaware of any evidence that recipients of the campaign contributions were aware of illegal reimbursements to the contributors.
Pearce, R-Mesa, provided the AP with copies of four canceled checks totaling $570 that he said showed he reimbursed the bowl or its lobbyist for game tickets.
He said in a three-page statement that he pressed for additional invoices for costs of tickets he was provided but the bowl didn’t provide them.
Pearce’s statement he either paid for or attempted to pay for tickets for seven college football games that he attended as part of out-of-state trips he took at the invitation of the Fiesta bowl.
“During the educational trips I was invited to attend by the Fiesta Bowl, the bowl covered the cost of each legislator’s airfare, lodging and meals as allowed under state law,” Pearce said.
Destinations included Denver, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Dallas.
Pearce also said he recently learned that a $4,060 ticket purchase that the Fiesta Bowl has said was made by its former executive director on Pearce’s behalf was actually done for a son, Justin, and his son’s friends and arranged by the bowl’s former lobbyist.
Pearce on April 21 filed amended versions of nine years of annual financial disclosure forms required of elected state officials, reporting receiving gifts over $500 from the Fiesta Bowl in seven of the nine years. He originally did not list Fiesta Bowl gifts in at least six of the seven reports.
Pearce, who became Senate president in January, is known nationally for his sponsoring of legislation against illegal immigration, including 2010 enforcement law known as SB1070.