New Meaning to "Political Football" in Arizona

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For years the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona has rewarded student athletes for their accomplishments on the football field. But now, an internal investigative report of the Fiesta Bowl’s activities has uncovered various violations of campaign finance and tax law, inlcuded among them, "rewards" for local politicians.

The New York Times reported yesterday that top Fiesta Bowl executives funneled campaign contributions to local elected officials, gave them free game tickets, and flew them to special events around the country. But the controversy does not end there. More than a dozen employees have admitted to being encouraged to make political contributions to state elected officials with the promise that they would be reimbursed by the Fiesta Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl, a non-profit organization, cannot legally make political contributions.

Linda Brown, of the Arizona Advocacy Network had this to say on the scandal: "It's the sort of thing that really upsets voters and makes them cynical about politics," Brown said. "There's absolutely no question when you have that kind of personal access, treating people who would never otherwise have access to those kinds of gifts and opportunities, you're creating a relationship that is going to (create) a quid-pro-quo."

Here's more media coverage:

From azfamily.com:

"The report says at least 14 current and former lawmakers from both major parties who took free tips to football games across the country included current Senate President Russell Pearce."

From local news station abc15.com:

"In the 283-page investigative report, Fiesta Bowl employees claimed they wrote checks to politicians and campaigns such as Jon Kyl, John McCain, Harry Mitchell and several others, then received bonus checks from the Fiesta Bowl organization reimbursing them for their donations."

A Beaumont, TX paper picks up the story:

"The bowl paid for round-trip tickets for lawmakers and a guest, two nights at a Chicago hotel and a cocktail reception. Lawmakers would have to pick up some meals and the game itself. Bowl officials defended the trip at the time as a chance for lawmakers to see the challenges that the bowl faces."

 

Former Sen. Minority Leader John Loredo (D) said that these actions were not out of character for the Fiesta Bowl and are further evidence of the pay-to-play culture at the capitol. “At this state capitol nothing is for free,” said Loredo. “If they’re offering you something like this, it’s for a reason – they want something in return.”

Pay-to-play scandals are nothing new for Arizona. It’s no AZSCAM, the pay-to-play scandal that rocked the state legislature in the 1990s, but it does make one thing clear: the legislature needs to make sure the Arizona Clean Elections system remains a viable tool for candidates who want to run for office without the taint of special interest campaign cash. The system needs to be strengthened to further prevent scandals like this and assure voters that elections are about them, not wealthy campaign donors.