House Speaker David Gowan is asking Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate his travel expenses in a bid to clear his name ahead of his congressional race.
In a letter released this morning, Gowan said news reports “have created the false impression that I knowingly requested some $12,000 in reimbursements to which I was not entitled.”
“The media continues to portray my actions as improper — even to the point of stating that I have committed a Class 2 misdemeanor,” he said. And Gowan said a threat by a private attorney to seek an investigation never materialized.
“Meanwhile, the citizens of Arizona are left to wonder what the truth is,” Gowan wrote to Brnovich. “I urge you to investigate and provide them with an answer.”
Mia Garcia, spokeswoman for Brnovich, said the request is being turned over to the agency’s criminal division. She said that follows standard procedures when complaints are received.
But Garcia said that everyone — including Gowan — needs to understand that if her agency does delve into the expenses, that won’t necessarily lead to a finding that he did nothing wrong. She said what happens will depend on what investigators find.
“If that’s where it leads us, I think you know that Attorney General Brnovich isn’t afraid to take on politically charged investigations,” she said.
Tom Ryan, the private attorney who has raised the issue, said he’s confident that Brnovich and his staff will do a thorough investigation.
But Ryan said Gowan’s request does not go far enough.
He said Brnovich also needs to investigate whether Gowan was engaged in his bid to become the Republican nominee for Congressional District 1 while using state vehicles and being driven around by a state employee. Ryan also said that House staff have been on trips where Gowan was seeking campaigning.
“Let’s make it complete,” he said.
Stephanie Grisham, Gowan’s House press aide, said her boss believes that Brnovich should investigate any and all allegations.
Grisham, one of the staffers who Ryan said has been helping Gowan’s congressional bid, said he did nothing improper. She said he was traveling around the state in his official duties as the speaker.
Ryan called it “a frolick and detour.”
“He wasn’t down in Nogales, he wasn’t over in Yuma, he wasn’t up in Parker,” he said. “Every city he went to was in CD 1.”
Ryan said Gowan, who lives in Sierra Vista — which is not in CD 1 — was talking about his congressional campaign.
“That’s not state business,” he said. “If he’s out there conducting a campaign (using state resources), he’s violating state law.”
Grisham did not dispute that her boss might have said something about the race.
“You cannot separate the office from the man,” she said.
“If he’s there as speaker and he’s speaking on the budget or anything legislative, and they ask him a question (about the race), he can answer it,” Grisham said. “It’s not campaigning.”
But the evidence, much of it unearthed by the Arizona Capitol Times, shows it’s not quite that clear.
For example, Gowan was driven to Flagstaff in a state vehicle last October with the stated purpose of meeting with local leaders.
But Gowan sent out a tweet that day with a picture of him at a table with others, saying he was in Flagstaff “listening to voters and talking about my vision to make DC accountable.” And it ended with the hashtag #AZ01.
He also was on the radio discussing his congressional campaign.
Gowan, in his letter to Brnovich, said he ordered his own internal review after the Capitol Times first reported on his travels in January.
“I was surprised and embarrassed to learn that errors in reporting and lapses of communication resulted in a total of $12,066 in over-reimbursements over the course of the year,” Gowan said. “I promptly repaid that amount in full with personal funds.”
He called them “errors and nothing more,” saying there was no “nefarious intent, despite the cynicism that pervades some of the newspaper accounts.”
In his letter to Brnovich, Gowan promised “unfettered but confidential” access to any records, saying he has instructed House members and staffers “to cooperate fully and to divulge personal knowledge of relevant facts.” But Gowan refused to comment further or explain why he believes the records he will make available are confidential.
In January, after a report in the Capitol Times, Gowan repaid the state more than $12,000 for mileage reimbursement he claimed for trips he took in state vehicles. The Arizona House of Representatives created a new travel policy after the Capitol Times story.