Fiesta Bowl Scandal Update

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Fiesta Bowl Previously we told you about the Clueless reporting in the Arizona Daily Star about the Fiesta Bowl Scandal. The right way – and wrong way – to cover the Fiesta Bowl Scandal. Unfortunately, this Clueless reporting continued today in the Star's embarrassing "political notebook" gossip column. Coughlin, Fiesta Bowl lobbyist, doesn't take lying low lying down:

You gotta hand it to Chuck Coughlin. One might think someone who was a big enough lobbyist for the scandal-rocked Fiesta Bowl that he pulled in more than half a mil for his company over the past five years would be lying low about now.

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Coughlin's HighGround consulting firm has mounted an effort to get its supporters to help it win a place in the Arizona Capitol Times "Best of" edition.

Coughlin wants his firm to win the "best PR firm" category. And he's going head-to-head with colleague Doug Cole, who has served as spokesman for both Brewer and former Gov. Fife Symington, in the battle for "best political operative."

According to the investigative report on the Fiesta Bowl, Coughlin defended pricey trips with legislators to bowl games in other parts of the nation, saying they "were a significant way to remind policy makers of how economically important the games are to Arizona's economy."

If only there were a category for best political bull.

Sadly, this is what readers of the Arizona Daily Star are learning about the Fiesta Bowl Scandal. The excellent reporting by the Arizona Republic and the Arizona Capitol Times is not finding its way into the pages of our sad small-town newspaper.

24857684_344X300Chuck Coughlin and Doug Cole, two lobbyists with HighGround Public Affairs Consultants, the "shadow governor" of Arizona that runs the governor's office (a scandal in its own right), are at the center of the Fiesta Bowl Scandal and previously were at the center of the Pimps for Private Prisons and Profit scandal last year:

[T]he Governor's office is run by lobbyists for HighGround Public Affairs Consultants who also happen to represent Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and many members of the Arizona Legislature. They are pimps for private prisons and profit. It's the lobbyist scandal the Arizona political media refuses to investigate. They all seem to have forgotten the AzScam lobbyist scandal.

I am still waiting for the reporter who will pull together the crosstabs between the business clients that HighGround represents with the Republican legislators that HighGround represents, the campaign contributions made by its business clients to its Republican legislator clients, the bills that Republican legislators sponsored on behalf of the business clients of HighGround, and the bills signed by Jan Brewer on the advice of the "shadow governor" of Arizona, HighGround Public Affairs Consultants. It's a closed-loop system of government by lobbyists. The story is there, it will write itself, if only one of our alleged political reporters will take the time to write it.

Columnist Laurie Roberts at the Arizona Republic has a good recap of the past week in the Fiesta Bowl Scandal. It's time for junketeers to pay their Fiesta bills:

The Fiesta freebie fest became a full-blown Fiesta frenzy this week as the bowl cleanup crew announced plans to bill every junketeering politician for his or her weekend jaunts.

That's going to leave a mark.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the junketeer now in charge of financial-disclosure reports, finally disclosed his own Fiesta getaways – the ones he took in 2003 and 2004 while he was Senate president.

And current Senate President Russell Pearce continued his search for those elusive canceled checks.

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Speaking of bills, the most interesting one of the week came from Team Fiesta, which announced that it is sending invoices to our elected junketeers.

We don't yet know how many will get them or how much they'll be asked to pay, but I'm guessing it'll be enough to fund a small country.

Pearce is, of course, the headline, both because of his stature and records that suggest if there was a freebie to be had, he was all over it – wife in tow. His bill should soar well beyond $10,000.

But Democrats as well as Republicans have been snagged by this scandal. Rep. Ben Arredondo took $6,240 worth of football tickets while on the Tempe City Council, including $4,000 Super Bowl tickets. He even called up and asked to be taken on a junket in 2009. He and the wife were treated to a fun-filled weekend in Minnesota.

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Ask and ye shall receive. We'll see how that works out for the Fiesta Bowl and their invoices.

I'm not clear on why our leaders would pony up – other than due to shame (not likely for some these characters) or fear of public ridicule (too late).

The Arizona Capitol Times explains that there will be political ramifications resonating from this scandal. Arizona Capitol Times » Bowled over: Fiesta fallout may claim elected officials (subscription required):

As near-daily revelations pour out of the Fiesta Bowl investigation, allegations that lawmakers benefitted from the besmirched bowl game’s largesse may come back to haunt their campaigns.

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Since the Fiesta Bowl released the report in late March, elected officials have scrambled to amend their financial disclosure statements, repay the bowl for trips and tickets, and explain their conduct to the public. But the allegations have cast a pall over a number of 2012 campaigns.

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“Anybody who’s named in this is in trouble if they have a challenger who wants to make it an issue,” said Scottsdale pollster Michael O’Neil, who runs public opinion research firm O’Neil Associates. “Everything about this says to me this is the kind of issue that sticks. People understand public officials running around, living high on the hog and doing stuff that they can’t do.”

Many observers predicted the Fiesta Bowl scandal would be most damaging to legislators who are seeking higher office, a bad omen for House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President Russell Pearce. Adams is widely expected to run for the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, and Pearce is weighing a run for the same seat.

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Adams’ recent admission that he didn’t properly disclose a 2007 Fiesta Bowl-sponsored trip — in early April he reimbursed the bowl $1,064 for the cost of travel and tickets — may provide political ammunition for the other congressional hopefuls.

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Pearce’s political future is even less clear — he could run against Adams in the primary, challenge Flake in the U.S. Senate race or seek another office down the road — but his Fiesta Bowl involvement might be more of a hindrance than it is for Adams, both because of the seriousness of the allegations and his controversial nature.

Contrary to the Fiesta Bowl report, Pearce said he paid for the football tickets himself, though he hasn’t produced receipts or other evidence supporting his claim. The revelations that he was taking junkets to football games across the country flies in the face of the narrative that Pearce has built for himself.

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At least one gubernatorial campaign could take a hit over nondisclosure as well. Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is widely assumed to be eying the 2014 governor’s race, amended his financial disclosure statements from his years as Senate president to reflect two Fiesta Bowl trips. Bennett said the disclosure laws were confusing because Arizona statute includes two different definitions of “gifts,” one of which he interpreted to mean the bowl’s gifts didn’t need to be disclosed.

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The gravest danger for the elected officials is the possibility that Attorney General Tom Horne or another agency could file charges against them. Horne wouldn’t comment on the possibility, saying he couldn’t discuss an ongoing investigation.

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The decision on whether to file charges will fall to Horne, whose own political future may hinge on the results.

Horne is investigating the Fiesta Bowl allegations, despite calls from the Arizona Democratic Party and others that he appoint an independent prosecutor or pass the case off to another agency because of an argued conflict of interest. Lobbyists Doug Cole and Chuck Coughlin, who served on a host committee for a Horne fundraiser and contributed to his 2010 campaign, represented the Fiesta Bowl, and former Attorney General Grant Woods, who also served on Horne’s host committee, conducted a brief internal investigation of the Fiesta Bowl that found no “credible evidence” of wrongdoing.

Horne, who is widely expected to run for governor in 2014, said he will investigate the case himself. Some observers say the results of that investigation could make or break his career.

The fact that Tom Horne lacks the ethical common sense to recuse himself from an investigation in which he is connected to the key players in the scandal should alone break his career. It already has the taint of a cover-up and whitewash as long as Horne is handling this investigation.

Investigate Fiestagate!

OOPS! Almost forgot: Former AG, ex-Fiesta Bowl lawyer under inquiry by state Bar:

The State Bar of Arizona said [last] Tuesday it has opened an investigation into Gary Husk and Grant Woods, the former Arizona attorney general, for their work at the Fiesta Bowl.

If Tom Horne does not recuse himself from the Fiesta Bowl investigation he may be joining his friends in an ethics investigation by the State Bar of Arizona.

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