Government bureaucrats don't police themselves very well. Never have and never will.
Legislature's answer to Fiesta Bowl Fiasco? Free D-backs tickets!
A year ago this week, the Fiesta Bowl Fiasco oozed into public view, giving us a rare glimpse into the various junkets, jaunts and freebies that flow freely forth at the state Capitol.
There was Russell Pearce, scooping up nearly $40,000 worth of weekend getaways without publicly disclosing so much as a single one. And Ben Arredondo, calling in his order for football tickets like the rest of us order pizza -- except that the rest of us pay for our pizza.
There was Linda Lopez, second only to Pearce with nearly $17,000 worth of five-star freebies. (Three Ritzes, one Adolphus and a Copley Plaza, where the Fiesta Bowl paid for two rooms at $1,683 apiece – one for her and another for her son and daughter in law.)
In all, 28 current and former legislators took free football tickets and trips, along with their assorted spouses, in-laws, grandchildren and second cousins once removed -- all paid for by the Fiesta Bowl.
Now, one year later, just consider how far we have come.
Number of legislators facing criminal charges, either for not disclosing the junkets or for taking football tickets, which is generally illegal: zero.
Number of new laws enacted to crack down on gifts or compel disclosure: zero.
But our leaders did manage mark the anniversary of their shame in true legislative style: by scoring another freebie.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are offering two free tickets for Friday’s Opening Day. It’s legal, because the gift is available to every lawmaker.
It’s also a slap in the face to every Arizonan who has watched and waited for reform only to be left with a view of the usual free lunch program on the Capitol lawn – where every day a different special interest feeds our leaders -- not to mention the freebies that we can’t see. This, because lawmakers don’t have to disclose much and even when they’re supposed to and don’t, there’s no penalty.
So what’s the message?
“I guess you’re supposed to think they like to go out to lunch with lobbyists, that’s the only thing I can surmise,” said Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City and a candidate for Congress.
Gould, never a fan of freebies, sponsored a bill this year to outlaw gifts. That bill -- along with several others aimed at strengthen disclosure laws – never got a hearing.
The legislative appetite for reform, evidently, is so last year...
… As in last May, when House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Dewey, vowed to reform disclosure laws. Tobin didn’t even offer a bill. He didn’t return my call to explain why.
… As in December, when Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery explained that he couldn’t file charges because our laws are confusing. Montgomery didn’t lobby for any changes as you might think a prosecutor would when confronted with laws that leave him unable to do his job.
Now, as we begin the fourth and mercifully final month of the legislative session, we not only have no reform, we have Opening Day thrown in our faces.
Usually, legislators will dream up all manner of reasons why they must take freebies – for “educational” purposes or the good of the state. At least Rep. Doris Goodale is honest in what she expects to get out of Friday’s funfest.
“A good time,” the Kingman Republican told the Associated Press.
Good time, indeed. Before the game, legislators will be treated to a pre-game party at Coach & Willie’s, courtesy of Tom Dorn, who lobbies for the Diamondbacks and 19 other clients. [Is Tom Dorn related to David Dorn in Scottsdale??? Or perhaps police Chief Dorn in Chandler???]
“We invite them every year to an event at a restaurant prior to the game…,” Dorn told me. “We have many different clients and I have a nice event where we invite the legislators, as do most businesses and lobbyists. There are events out on the lawn at the Capitol every day.”
Dorn says about half of the Legislature is planning to attend Friday’s game and that he’ll release the list after the event. That’s frankly more than he has to do, given that joke we call our disclosure law.
Legislators don’t have to own up unless a gift is worth $500. The Diamondbacks will have to disclose in August, but only the lump sum spent on Friday’s freebie – not who the team spent the money on, according to Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
So, to recap events of the last year: Legislators accepted forbidden tickets and kept quiet about junkets because they didn’t understand the law. They can’t be held accountable because the law is confusing. But they don’t want to clarify the law.
Me? I think it all seems pretty clear.
Tempe Center for the Arts
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