It’s been a year since the Fiesta Bowl scandal embarrassed legislators, but at least some Arizona lawmakers still like their perks.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have again offered free tickets to legislators for the baseball team’s first game of the season, and a team executive said Tuesday that at least 40 of the 90 senators and representatives have accepted so far.
“A good time,” said Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, said when asked what she she’ll get out of going to the game April 6.
Lawmakers won’t break any rules by accepting the passes. And Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, said the tickets she’s accepting for herself and her husband provide an opportunity for lawmakers to socialize and get to know each other away from the pressure-cooker of the Capitol.
The Fiesta Bowl scandal has led to criminal charges alleging bowl personnel were illegally reimbursed for campaign contributions. The politicians involved apparently weren’t aware of the scheme.
In a separate issue that directly touched legislators, the Fiesta Bowl’s internal investigation found that numerous lawmakers accepted free game tickets and trips to college football games. Many had not reported them on financial disclosure forms.
A prosecutor who investigated whether legislators violated gift and disclosure laws concluded no prosecution was warranted because state laws are so complex and contradictory.
The Diamondbacks’ giveaway doesn’t violate the state’s general ban on giving gifts to lawmakers because the offer is made to all 90 members of the Legislature.
Team President Derrick Hall said the free tickets provided legislators are part of a tradition that he started about six years ago to make opening day a community celebration.
“It’s just focused on opening day, making that more of a special event,” Hall said. He also said the team makes sure it complies with all applicable laws.
The team’s website says tickets for opening day range from $5 to $160, but Hall said the tickets that legislators will get will likely be unsold ones for lower-price seats in Chase Field’s upper deck.
Hall said the team doesn’t consider the event as a lobbying move, and team lobbyist Tom Dorn said the only legislative issue that he has worked on for the team so far this session has been a still-pending bill to allow guns in public buildings.
The legislation has been amended to exclude publicly-owned venues such as the sports stadium used by the baseball team.
“We simply want to protect our fans,” Dorn said.
Burges said she considered the Fiesta Bowl scandal when deciding whether accepting the Diamondbacks’ offer would be an image problem for the Legislature.
She said she concluded that the Fiesta Bowl’s offerings made to other lawmakers were in a different league. “Those tickets to the football games were very expensive,” she said.
Goodale said there are no strings attached to accepting the seats that she described as “up in the rafters.”
“I never, ever take anything with any expectation there’s a return. That’s clear,” Goodale said.
Hall said the team wasn’t providing lawmakers with anything at the game, but Dorn said his lobbying firm, which has other clients besides the Diamondbacks, separately had invited lawmakers to a pregame gathering at a nearby restaurant.
Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, said she hadn’t decided yet whether to accept opening day tickets, but she said she’d pay for them if she does, as she said she’d done previously.
McCune Davis said the real issue is that legislation proposed in the wake of the Fiesta Bowl scandal to tighten the state’s gift and disclosure requirements remains bottled up in the Legislature, not getting hearings.
“I think the public expects us to take action,” she said.