When House Speaker David Gowan was spotted on live TV sitting in the front row directly behind the batter at the Arizona Diamondbacks Opening Day game, tongues started wagging.
Lawmakers are generally prohibited from accepting tickets to sporting events from lobbyists, and such good seats would be extravagant for a lawmaker on a $24,000 per year salary.
Melissa DeLaney, a spokesperson for Gowan’s campaign for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, said the speaker was hosting a fundraiser at a ballpark suite and only dropped into the front row seat to say hello to “a supporter” who was “not a lobbyist” but had the front row tickets. When pressed if that supporter was Mike Ingram, who was spotted behind the speaker, DeLaney acknowledged that it was.
Ingram is a minority owner of the Diamondbacks, a developer and a donor to Republican congressional candidates.
His company, El Dorado Holdings Inc., stands to benefit from a bill Gowan is sponsoring at the Capitol this year.
“Mike Ingram is a friend and supporter of David Gowan’s campaign for Congress. He invited the Speaker down to his box to say hello, which he did. Then he went back to his fundraiser,” DeLaney said.
Ingram’s office said he is out of town for the week, but confirmed he was at the opening day game. His assistant said he didn’t take any lawmakers with him to the game, and said he didn’t provide them with tickets. The assistant also didn’t know if Ingram attended Gowan’s fundraiser that was being held in a suite.
Ingram would have a good reason to be a supporter of Gowan’s: The speaker sponsored HB2568, which developers and specifically Ingram’s company, El Dorado Holdings, support.
On the opposing side of the bill are several municipalities, Maricopa and Pinal counties, and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
The bill makes significant changes to the laws that govern the creation of community facilities districts, which can issue bonds to finance infrastructure development. Critics argue the bill would give too much control over the district boards to developers, and that El Dorado Holdings seems to be pushing the bill in order to stack the district board in one of the company’s planned developments near Benson.
House Democratic assistant leader Bruce Wheeler, a member of the House Ethics Committee, said Gowan’s appearance at the baseball game was another display of the “complete arrogance of power” that envelops Republican leadership in the House.
“We witness it not only on the floor of the House of Representatives, but now in the bleachers in stadiums as well. It doesn’t do him any favors to be hobnobbing and soliciting donations from lobbyists while he’s speaker of the House,” Wheeler said.
He said Gowan’s sponsorship of a bill to help the company, then hanging out in the company owner’s front row seats at the game is troubling.
“I think there’s a huge conflict of interest and favoritism, or at least the appearance of that,” he said, adding that some members of GOP leadership think they can “do anything they want.”
“They’re oblivious to state law and rules and they’re just going to do what they want. And to hell with the public and to hell with accountability,” he said.
DeLaney said Gowan watched roughly an inning from the front row seats, and spent the rest of the time in his fundraising suite, which was purchased by Gowan’s congressional campaign.
An invitation to that fundraiser says a single ticket cost $1,000, which attendees could contribute to Gowan’s campaign themselves or raise for him. For a $5,400 contribution, attendees could get co-chair status, which included four tickets and two parking passes.
But Gowan wasn’t the only lawmaker at the game.
Democratic Sen. Catherine was sitting right behind the speaker when he was captured on camera. Miranda said she had no idea whose seats she was sitting in directly behind the batter and that she went down there to say hello to Gowan and other friends.
Miranda said she was already at the game in a different section, with tickets courtesy of a lobbying firm.
State law prohibits lobbyists from offering a lone lawmaker tickets to a sporting event. That rule, however, doesn’t apply if a lobbyist buys tickets for all lawmakers, all members of one political caucus, or all members of a legislative committee.
Miranda said the Dorn Policy Group offered tickets to all 90 lawmakers.
Wheeler confirmed that he also received an invitation from the lobbying firm, but he didn’t accept the tickets.
The sighting of House Speaker David Gowan behind the home plate also started a war of words on Twitter, as a consultant for both Gowan’s campaign and his opponent in the CD1 primary, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, traded barbs about which candidate has the most baggage.
Mike Noble, Babeu’s consultant, retweeted a photo of the speaker just behind the batter with the caption:
— Mike Noble (@MBQF_AZ) April 5, 2016
Gowan’s campaign consultant Trey Terry shot back with a dig at Babeu, who is facing an FBI investigation into his use of civil asset forfeiture funds, known as RICO funds:
Just having a normal campaign fundraiser at a D-Backs game. We don’t get to use RICO funds like you guys in Pinal. https://t.co/RxWUB2Cdkg
— Trey Terry (@treyterry) April 5, 2016