Financial disclosure statements filed by Senate President Russell Pearce don’t disclose his acceptance of lavish Fiesta Bowl-paid trips to out-of-state college football games.
A recently released report on an investigation commissioned by the bowl described the trips by delegations of legislators and family members to Chicago in 2005 and Boston in 2008 when Pearce was a state representative.
The bowl’s report didn’t itemize spending for each lawmaker but costs listed for the respective travel parties, which included bowl officials and lobbyists as well as lawmakers and relatives of some lawmakers, averaged approximately $1,000 per person for one trip and approximately $2,000 for another.
A state law on lobbyists generally exempts travel and lodging from a ban on gifts that legislators may accept from lobbyists. However, the separate financial disclosure law for legislators and other public officials requires disclosures of gifts of $500 or more and doesn’t exempt travel.
Pearce, a Mesa Republican known for championing legislation targeting illegal immigration, is the most prominent legislator to figure in the bowl report’s disclosures related the bowl’s lobbyist efforts.
He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday about the financial reports, which were obtained under a public records request. Some of the reports had to be retrieved by state archives.
Pearce’s report for 2005 lists gifts from five sources but not the Fiesta Bowl or its sister bowl, the Insight Bowl. His report for 2008 listed only one gift source, a conservative legislative group, but not the Fiesta Bowl.
The Fiesta Bowl report said the bowl paid at least $18,453 in 2005 on the three-day “dignitary” trip to Chicago in which four legislators and others stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, went to an hour-long meeting for a presentation on college football and attended a game between Northwestern and Michigan.
The 2008 trip to Boston included a stay at the Copley Plaza Hotel and attendance at a Boston College-Virginia Tech game. A dinner presentation featured a talk by Boston College’s athletic director. The report said the trip cost more than $65,000.
Pearce’s wife accompanied him on the Chicago trip while she and a son went with him on the Boston trip. The bowl report said the bowl paid for expenses of the legislators and “in many instances” those of family members.
Pearce’s disclosure report for 2009 did not mention a Dallas trip that year in which the Fiesta Bowl report said Pearce and another lawmaker were the bowl’s guests. The bowl’s report said the trip was for a game between Oklahoma and Texas but it did not discuss the trip in detail.
His report for 2006 listed the Insight Bowl as the source of a gift worth $500 or more for “me and wife.”
Pearce apparently recycled that report in subsequent years, as the same Insight Bowl listing appeared in the gifts section but crossed off on each of those reports.
A violation of the disclosure requirement is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
However, state Elections Director Amy Bjelland said an omission or a falsehood involving required disclosures must be a knowing violation to trigger the criminal penalty. “You have to look at the facts surrounding it,” said Bjelland, a senior official in the Secretary of State’s Office.
The Senate Ethics Committee’s chairman said last week he is having aides retrieve and review current and former senators’ disclosure and campaign-finance reports.
The Arizona Attorney General’s office in 2010 began a criminal investigation after being alerted by the Secretary of State’s office about alleged illegal reimbursements by the Fiesta Bowl for campaign contributions by employees.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office said the investigation is continuing and that she could not comment on its current scope.
Bjelland said her office has not referred information on trips and gift reporting that it just learned off through the bowl’s report.
Four legislators amended their disclosure reports to include Fiesta Bowl gifts, Bjelland noted. “Depending on what shakes out, it’s something we’ll have to look into.”