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Pearce allies fail to push through recall reimbursement bill

Former Senate President Russell Pearce (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

A last-minute push to create the legal framework to reimburse recalled politicians for their campaign expenses died on the last day of session, after allies of former Sen. Russell Pearce failed to consolidate support behind the legislation.

The proposal could have paved the way for Pearce to get a reimbursement of more than $260,000 — the amount his campaign spent defending him last year, when he was ousted from the Senate in a recall election.

Pearce’s allies initially pushed to get reimbursement money for the ousted lawmaker in the state budget.

When that effort didn’t pan out, they tried another maneuver, adopting an amendment in a conference committee to establish the law to govern the reimbursement of recalled officers.

Backers tried mightily to shop for support even as lawmakers were wrapping up their work for the session.

But it became clear on May 3 that the proposal didn’t have adequate support, which its backers conceded hours before lawmakers officially shut down the 50th Legislature and headed back to their districts.

“The likelihood of (it) going anywhere is low. (It’s) very slim,”

Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs said earlier in the day.

Republicans were supposed to tackle the legislation in the Senate caucus meeting, but they canceled the discussion on it soon after it had been scheduled for a hearing.

“Probably it doesn’t have the votes,” Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged.

Biggs said he believed his caucus was fairly evenly split on the issue, but that meant it wouldn’t get over the 16-vote threshold to pass the measure.

Democrats were opposed to the legislation.

Pearce’s allies had secured a critical step in pushing for the legislation just the day before, when it was adopted in a conference committee.

The bill would have needed the approval of both the House and the Senate.

Pearce’s allies argued that legislators are constitutionally bound to make the reimbursement, and the Arizona Constitution mandates the Legislature to create the framework for reimbursing recalled officers.

The amendment says a reimbursement could be made after the recalled official submits an itemized account of campaign expenses, which must be submitted within two years after the recall election.

But the Legislature or other governing bodies in the case of officials who aren’t state officers still must approve the expenses submitted by the recalled official.

Biggs said all the language did was “create the potentiality” to reimburse a recalled official. It didn’t guarantee a reimbursement, he said.

“There’s no money in here,” Biggs said.

Biggs also said any reference to funding to pay Pearce is “misinformation” and a “mischaracterization.”

“The implication that you and others have written and tried to characterize it as is that Russell Pearce is going to get $250,000 in taxpayer money, and that’s an absolute mischaracterization of this,”

Biggs complained.

The Arizona Constitution requires the Legislature to enact laws to govern recalls, “including provision for payment by the public treasury of the reasonable special election campaign expenses of such officer.”

In any case, some Republicans had joined Democrats, at least ideologically, saying they opposed the proposal since Pearce didn’t spend his own money during the recall election.

The passion from both sides was clearly on display during the committee hearing on May 2, which attracted lawmakers and onlookers.

Smith, a Pearce ally who chaired the meeting, threw political organizer Randy Parraz and at least two others out of the room after the activists spoke uninvited.

Parraz and his group, Citizens for a Better Arizona, spearheaded the recall effort against Pearce last year.

After the hearing, Parraz asked why Pearce, when he was still Senate president, and Biggs didn’t address the constitutional provision on reimbursement last year.

“A year later after he loses, now his Tea Party folks come in here and at the end of the legislative session at a late afternoon (hearing), they shut down public comment and don’t let people come forward,”

Parraz said.

“It’s a dog-and-pony show. It’s all about Russell Pearce,” he added.

At one point during the hearing, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, described the incessant questioning from Rep. Martin Quezada as “political grandstanding.”

When Quezada, a Tolleson Democrat, said he wanted staff to answer whether issuing a check to Pearce later would violate the “gift clause” in the state Constitution, Farnsworth retorted that under the Constitution, reasonable expenses can be paid and this is a provision that’s apart from the “gift clause.”

“So please explain to us how this would violate gift clause?”

Farnsworth said.

Earlier, House Speaker Pro Tem Steve Montenegro circulated a letter calling for Pearce’s reimbursement.

“There’s a lot of legislators that have raised the issue,” the Litchfield Park Republican said. “Some members have spoken out, and it’s our constitutional duty.”

But some weren’t sure Pearce deserved to be reimbursed, since none of the money he spent in the recall election was actually his.

“If it came out of Russell’s personal pocket you know, he and his wife took out a second mortgage (or) something like that then the conversation is open. But a refund of campaign contributions from groups across the country, from lobbyists and things like that?

Absolutely not,” said Sen. Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican.

Crandall often butted heads with Pearce when the two served together in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Rather than challenge Pearce this year, Crandall announced that he will move to a neighboring district to run.

Even Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, one of Pearce’s ideological allies, said he was not “keen on giving away taxpayer money.”

“I’m not going to vote for it,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times this week. “It’s taxpayer money. I don’t give taxpayer money away to anybody. I don’t want to give taxpayer money to half of the things that we give now.”

Pearce is running again for the Senate this year in the new Legislative District 25. His opponent in the Republican primary is Bob Worsley, the founder of SkyMall.

Until 1973, state law included provisions to reimburse recalled

officials: maximums of $500 for statewide officers, $200 for legislators and $150 for municipal officers. However, that law was repealed as part of a sweeping overhaul of the state’s initiative, referendum and recall statutes.

In the historic 2011 recall election, Pearce spent $260,302 attempting to retain the Senate seat he had been elected to a year earlier. Of the $261,000 he raised, more than $180,000 came from individual contributors and another $81,000 came from political action committees.

He was defeated by Republican Jerry Lewis, who spent $84,979. The election was the first time in state history a legislator was successfully recalled.

One comment

  1. The same legislators who oppose Clean Elections because they claim(falsely) that it uses taxpayer money now tried to use real taxpayer money to pay Pearce for expenses that he never incurred anyway. Apparently it all depends on one’s poliitical connections.

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