For three months in 2020, Arizona taxpayers fronted the bill of nearly $10,000 so Gov. Doug Ducey could campaign for President Trump and Vice President Pence.
Ducey, as governor, can rent out planes from the Department of Public Safety to use for any purpose. Governors before him have used the planes to travel to their hometowns among other trips statewide.
Ducey took five trips between August and October, each of them campaign stops.
The $10,000 was eventually reimbursed at the end of November from Ducey’s political action committee, Arizonans for Strong Leadership, which was used primarily to keep the Arizona Legislature in Republican control.
The disbursement was found through the secretary of state’s campaign finance website.
The Department of Public Safety confirmed to Arizona Capitol Times the five trips were: August 11, 2020, to Tucson; August 18, 2020, to Yuma; August 19, 2020, to Tucson; October 28, 2020, to Bullhead City; and October 30, 2020, to Flagstaff and Tucson.
Further research showed these trips coincided with a campaign stop for Pence on August 11, where state health director Cara Christ also attended for a coronavirus roundtable. The Yuma trip was for Trump, who spoke at an airport rally. The October 19 trip to Tucson was for Trump as well as was the Bullhead City campaign event where Trump suggested his Arizona election success was in Ducey’s hands.
“I’m going to be so angry at you if I don’t get there,” he said, only hinting at what was going to come.
DPS spokesman Bart Graves said the $9,654.59 payment on the finance report from November 24 “reflects reimbursement for the governor’s travel on a DPS aircraft to campaign events last year, ensuring that no taxpayer funds were used for campaign activities.”
But the roughly $10,000 interest-free loan still came at the taxpayer’s expense before a political committee paid it back and it was legal.
Doug Cole was the spokesman for Gov. Fife Symington in the 1990s. Cole said Ducey did not do anything wrong because the governor has certain privileges laid out in statute allowing him or her to use the plane for any means necessary.
Unless those means conflict with other laws like electioneering, but the amount in full was repaid.
Symington took some heat for using the state plane to take his family to California during his fraud trial that eventually forced him to resign as governor. Symington’s trips also coincidentally cost $10,000, according to the Associated Press.
Cole likened what Ducey did to what the president does while campaigning. He uses the plane for those purposes and then a committee will pay the bill so it’s not on the taxpayers’ dime, he said.
Cole cited the state law that reads, “The director of the department of public safety shall provide transportation, security and protection for the governor and security and protection for the governor’s family to the extent and in the manner the director of the department of public safety and the governor deem appropriate and adequate.”
Other elected officials can join the governor on the plane, but they cannot use it without approval and they cannot use the plane for political purposes like the governor can because other elected officials don’t have travel privileges.
Several election statutes raise some questions about Ducey’s activities. One says “any public agency, department, board, commission, committee, council or authority shall not spend or use public resources to influence an election” specifically mentioning the use of vehicles.
Another section of that same law states that any person or entity that knowingly violates that law “is liable for a civil penalty of not more than five thousand dollars for each violation.”
Also, given the trips took place in the third and fourth quarter of the 2020 election cycle filing periods, statutes suggest reimbursement taking place in the respective period rather than at the end of the cycle. The report wasn’t filed until the fourth quarter, which ended December 31, 2020.
“For an agreement to purchase goods or services, the expenditure or disbursement is deemed made either on the date the parties enter into the agreement or the date the purchase order is issued,” the statute reads.
Ducey has shown a pattern of using state resources to his benefit for campaigning and none of them were illegal.
In 2018, during his campaign for re-election, Ducey once again used DPS to his advantage to aid his campaign.
Invited to a DPS and media-only event was a photographer and videographer who were there to collect footage for a future campaign ad. Ducey didn’t think the press conference, which was put together using taxpayer dollars and then used to help his own election efforts, was improper.
“This is a public event. Anyone who wants to come can come,” Ducey said at the time.
The event was only attended by media and Ducey’s staff.
Additionally, last year, Ducey took a call with business leaders in his government office and instructed those on the call to vote “no” on Proposition 208, an education tax on the wealthy that he adamantly opposed. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich launched an investigation to see if Ducey broke the law, but Brnovich didn’t find sufficient evidence.
Joel Edman, an election attorney with the progressive Arizona Advocacy Network, said it being an interest-free loan is what will bother Arizonans the most.
“There’s the state resources, there’s potentially endangering people’s lives with unnecessary gatherings during the pandemic and him bringing all of the security personnel and everybody else to those events. It boils down to this pattern that we see over and over where he and the folks around them care only about his political career and apparently little else.”