Gov. Jan Brewer said Tuesday that Arizona lawmakers should clarify state laws governing gifts to public officials in light of the Fiesta Bowl scandal, but added there are legitimate grounds for officials to accept gifts of travel and token items of appreciation.
Brewer’s comments followed recent disclosures that legislators accepted free trips and football game tickets from the Fiesta Bowl. Those disclosures are part of an evolving scandal that included alleged illegal reimbursements of employees’ campaign contributions and questionable spending benefiting bowl staffers.
Brewer said she supports full disclosure but that free travel is reasonable in circumstances that promote the state and when public money is unavailable.
Her stance and a similar one from House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, apparently put them at odds with Senate Ethics Chairman Ron Gould.
The Lake Havasu City Republican has said he will propose legislation to flatly ban all gifts to legislators in order to head off any question of impropriety.
Legislators can accept gifts of travel from lobbyists and their employers, and, in limited circumstances, tickets to entertainment events. They must report trips as gifts.
In the wake of the Fiesta bowl disclosures, numerous current and former legislators have amended their disclosure reports to add trips provided by the Fiesta Bowl and other organizations.
Several current and former lawmakers have said they erroneously thought trips did not have to be reported because they were allowed to be accepted under the state’s law restricting gifts provided by lobbyists.
Current disclosure laws are “very ambiguous,” Brewer said. “I’m not trying to make excuses, but I truly believe that we need to understand it, where everybody knows what the rules are — full disclosure — and get it down pat so that everybody realizes just exactly what their responsibilities are.”
Sponsored travel is appropriate when officials are representing the state and “sometimes bringing business back,” Brewer said. “
“I know when you … look at it, it looks like everybody is just out there getting things for nothing. But it is work. It is work for all of those elected officials that participate,” the former legislator said. The state, she said, often cannot afford such travel.
Tobin said he’s preparing a legislative proposal on gifts and disclosures.
Tobin, who took a Fiesta Bowl trip in 2009 to a college football game in Dallas, said it’s reasonable for the cash-short state to allow elected officials to accept free trips to attend conferences and represent the state at events.
“Shouldn’t there be a section in there that says ‘state business’?” Tobin said, referring to the annual financial disclosure form where lawmakers must report gifts they accepted. “When you’re asked to help the state … I don’t think of it as a gift.”
Brewer said gifts that represent tokens of appreciation also should be permitted.
“You might not believe this, but there are people in the community that like to give their elected officials flowers or little tokens of appreciation and you’re forced to return them,” Brewer said. “And most of us are raised to be gracious and say ‘thank you’ for that type of gift.”