Kyrsten Sinema has taken $2.5 million from corporate PACs since 2021

At the same time that Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was standing in opposition to Democratic efforts to raise taxes on corporations, she was raking in campaign cash from many of the companies lobbying against the tax increases — corporate PACs have given Sinema more than $2.5 million since 2021, more than one out of every three dollars she’s raised.

An Arizona Mirror analysis of campaign finance reports between Jan. 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022 for both Sinema’s personal campaign and her leadership political action committee, Getting Stuff Done, show that her prodigious fundraising is powered by corporate money.

Her reports over that span show she accepted just under $2 million for her campaign and $567,000 for her PAC. (Her PAC has drawn media scrutiny for spending thousands of dollars on wine, paying for a personal trip to Europe and a $34,500 payment to rent a resort in Sedona.) These numbers don’t reflect individual contributions from corporate executives or other employees at companies whose PACs gave her money.

In all, her campaign has raised more than $5.8 million in that same time, while her leadership PAC has brought in slightly less than $1.1 million. Her committees have received 36% of their combined money from corporate PACs.

Sinema received checks from businesses like Amazon, Honeywell, Intel and Merck, among many others, that have been actively fighting off Democratic efforts to reverse the 2017 tax cuts on businesses that Republicans passed while they were in power. Those groups are all part of The Business Roundtable, a coalition of prominent corporate leaders that argue increasing taxes is a threat to their future plans.

Sinema’s opposition to undoing those 2017 tax cuts is also a far cry from her campaign in 2018 against Martha McSally, when she attacked her opponent for supporting Donald Trump’s “huge tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations at the expense of our middle class.”

Accepting millions of dollars from corporate PACs -- mostly from pharmaceutical companies, public utilities, banks and hedge funds -- puts her at odds with Mark Kelly, Arizona’s other senator.

Kelly, a first-term Democrat, has sworn off accepting corporate PAC money and called for them to be banned entirely. His message is summed up in a recent ad his campaign has placed on social media: “I don’t take money from corporate PACs because I know who I’m fighting for.” Kelly also introduced a bill with Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff to ban for-profit corporate PACs altogether.

Sinema’s office refused to answer specific questions for this story, but pushed back on whether she is actually opposed to raising the corporate tax. Her campaign did not respond.

Communications director Hannah Hurley said when Sinema told business leaders at a private Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry event that, “You all know, the entire country knows, that I'm opposed to raising the corporate minimum tax rate,” what she really meant was she is opposed to raising tax rates on corporations — President Joe Biden sought to raise the corporate rate from 21% to 28% — but is still in favor of setting the corporate minimum tax rate to 15%, ensuring that profitable companies aren’t able to dodge paying taxes through loopholes and other measures.

Even so, Sinema has stymied legislation or proposals she says she supports because she has steadfastly refused to end or change the filibuster, which requires the support of 60 senators for any legislation to receive a formal vote. In a Senate that is split 50-50, with Democrats holding the tie-breaking vote in Vice President Kamala Harris, that means any legislation that doesn’t have the backing of at least 10 Republicans cannot advance.

On May 23, activists protested Sinema in Tucson for her stance on the filibuster and questioned whether she was beholden to her “corporate donors” or the “people, democracy and planet.” Hurley did not address whether Sinema prioritizes her corporate donors over her constituents.

Sinema has the benefit of not being up for re-election until 2024, while Kelly is up this year. But Sinema also has so angered Democrats that the party censured her earlier this year and she is likely to face a primary challenger. Many Democrats believe that U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a progressive who just had the best fundraising quarter in his political career, will run against her.

Sinema has already received scrutiny for some of her notable campaign contributors in the past, including several billionaires who backed Donald Trump’s presidential bids.

She has been a thorn in the side of her party since Democrats won control of both congressional chambers and the presidency, mostly due to her unwillingness to kill the filibuster. And her opposition to key parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda, along with that of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, has prevented much of the administration’s sweeping policy proposals from passing.

But Sinema has been able to claim victory on some issues: She was instrumental in a bipartisan deal on infrastructure spending, though the final plan was scaled back from what Democrats and Biden had initially sought.

Democratic political consultant Tony Cani told the Arizona Mirror that, while Sinema’s corporate backing isn’t popular in Democratic politics, it’s unlikely to change how people view her. At the end of the day, Democratic voters have already made up their minds, and those opinions are unlikely to change barring something drastic happening, he said.

“I personally think that the only thing that saves her from a viable primary challenge is if no credible Democrat decides to run against her,” Cani said.

When corporations give money to candidates, they're saying they believe in the same basic principles — in Sinema’s case, that she supports their interests. Cani likened it to anti-LGBTQ corporations contributing to campaigns of politicians or any corporation giving money to an “insurrectionist.”

“Voters should take into account which corporate PACs elected officials are taking money from, and consumers should take into account which elected officials corporations are giving to, because they are making a definitive statement,” he told the Mirror.

Cani also said candidates like Kelly are waving away corporate PAC money because it’s not as transparent as the money coming directly from individuals.

From Sinema’s Getting Stuff Done PAC, at least two scandal-plagued contributions stood out raising questions about why she accepted such money and what either has to do with Arizona’s needs.

In November, she raised $5,000 from Pacific Gas & Electric, a California utility company that just two months earlier was charged with manslaughter for starting a wildfire that killed four people. The company, which is the largest public utility in the country, also pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in 2020 for a similar reason.

Neither Sinema’s office nor her campaign would answer questions about the contribution.

But the other standout contribution came from the multi-level marketing firm Herbalife, which gave Sinema’s PAC $5,000. Herbalife admitted to engaging in criminal activity for a decade and paid a fine of $123 million in 2020 for criminal corruption and fraud. The company also contributed another $2,500 directly to Sinema’s campaign coffers.

Sinema previously faced scrutiny for accepting money from Herbalife and other MLMs because she took their money while those companies were working to kill a Democratic-sponsored labor bill called the PRO Act. Local business groups called on both Sinema and Kelly to oppose the legislation last year, which would wipe out Arizona’s “right-to-work” law that prohibits mandatory union membership.

She faced additional scrutiny last year when she hosted a private fundraiser with business leaders who were strongly opposed to Biden’s Build Back Better proposal. She charged up to $5,800 for the event which lasted 45 minutes on Sept. 27, 2021. Campaign finance records show she raised $82,000 for her campaign and another $47,500 for her PAC between Sept. 27 and Sept. 30 from PACs alone.

It was one of several fundraising events she held that correlated with moving legislation the corporations boosting her campaign coffers were against.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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Keeping voters in the dark: GOP schools chief candidate in Arizona hasn’t filed her latest campaign finance report

It’s been 35 days since candidates for elected office were required to file their campaign finance reports to disclose campaign activity for the first three months of 2022, but state Rep. Michelle Udall still has not submitted her report.

Udall, who is seeking the Republican nomination for state schools superintendent, is the only candidate for statewide office this year that has failed to file a campaign report for the first quarter.

Each day the report is late, a $10 penalty is accrued for the candidate. After 15 days, the penalty increases to $25 per day. The fines cannot be paid by the campaign, either — payment must come out of the candidate’s own pocket.

Udall currently owes $650 for failing to file this report.

And she has a pattern of filing her reports late and accruing late fees. The Secretary of State’s Office told the Arizona Mirror that Udall owes a total of $810 in penalties; that includes a fine for her 2021 report, which was filed 15 days late, and being one day late on a report due in January 2020.

Udall’s current report being 35 days past the deadline is not the longest she has gone without filing a report: She went 123 days without filing her 2018 pre-general election report and then was 45 days late for her fourth quarter report in the same election cycle. Those delayed reports accumulated fines of $2,850 and $900, respectively.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said it’s unclear if those fines were paid in full or waived.

Arizona has lax campaign finance laws and almost no accountability measures in place for candidates or committees, as the Arizona Republic noted in a report about Democratic Rep. Cesar Chavez accruing more than $60,000 in fees. He only ended up having to pay $1,000 of that, the paper reported.

Campaign finance reports are one of the cornerstones for transparency in politics, both in Arizona and across the country. They let voters see who is lining up to financially support candidates for elected office and how those candidates are spending their money. When candidates don’t file reports, or are chronically late in doing so, it’s impossible for the public to know basic details.

In Udall’s case, voters know that she previously raised a paltry $12,500 for all of 2021, along with $28,000 carried over from a previous legislative campaign. But because she has so far failed to file her first quarter report, it’s unknown how much she’s raised so far in 2022, and from who — important information both for her campaign for higher office and her position as a state legislator voting on new laws.

Udall is running in a three-way primary against former schools superintendent and attorney general Tom Horne, whose campaign is mostly funded by $625,000 in loans from him and his wife, and Shiry Sapir, a Scottsdale realtor who is running with Clean Elections funding. The winner will take on the incumbent Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat who is also running with Clean Elections funding.

Udall did not respond to text messages with questions for this story.

Though she hasn’t filed her campaign finance report, Udall participated in a Clean Elections debate last month hosted by Arizona PBS. She is also showing up to work every day as a state lawmaker.

According to state campaign finance laws, after 30 days late the Secretary of State’s Office can refer a complaint to the “proper enforcement officer,” which in this case would be the attorney general.

A Secretary of State’s Office spokesperson said that has not been done yet.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters wants to allow states to ban contraception use

by Dillon Rosenblatt, Arizona Mirror

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturns women’s constitutional right to abortion this summer, one Arizona Republican candidate for U.S. Senate thinks judges should also take aim at the right to buy and use contraception.

Blake Masters, a Tucson-based venture capitalist, boasts on his website that he will only vote to confirm federal judges “who understand that Roe and Griswold and Casey were wrongly decided, and that there is no constitutional right to abortion.” Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, decided in 1973 and 1992, respectively, both upheld a constitutional right to abortion access.

But the ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 protected a married couple’s right to buy and use contraceptives without government restrictions. The case centered on a Connecticut law that banned the use of contraceptives, which the court determined violated a married couple’s constitutional right to privacy, establishing the basis for the right to privacy with respect to intimate practices.

Masters’ stance puts him on the opposite side of the issue from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of GOP senators, which has advised candidates on talking points following the leak of a draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

In a section instructing candidates on how to “forcefully refute Democrat lies” about Republicans’ positions on abortion and health care, the NRSC declares that “Republicans DO NOT want to take away contraception.”

Elsewhere in the talking points memo to GOP Senate candidates, the NRSC advises them to say, “I’m not in favor of putting women or doctors in jail. I would never take away anyone’s contraception or health care. That’s just the typical BS you get from politicians.”

Masters’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment. But after this story was published, his campaign’s attorney sent a letter to the Arizona Mirror stating that, “Blake does not support local, state, or federal contraception bans—and has never said otherwise.”

“Blake’s position that Griswold was wrongly decided speaks only to the scope of individual constitutional rights, not good public policy,” campaign attorney Kory Langhofer wrote.

On Twitter, Masters expounded on his view.

“In Griswold, the justices wholesale *made up a constitutional right* to achieve a political outcome. I am opposed to judges making law. It’s the job of the legislative branch to create laws, not the courts. This is separation of powers 101,” he wrote

On May 9, the reference to Griswold v. Connecticut was removed from Masters’ website, which now says that his criteria for approving judges would be their stated desire to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The Supreme Court in June will issue its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case centered on a Mississippi abortion law that is a vehicle for the court to overturn Roe, as conservative justices appear poised to do in a draft opinion that was leaked.

In an election year that is supposed to favor Republicans across the country, Democrats and reproductive rights activists are concerned about what a Republican-controlled Senate chamber could mean, not just for abortion rights but a host of other issues.

In Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion, he mentioned other landmark cases that could potentially be overturned in the future, Including Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage.

President Donald Trump hasn’t yet endorsed an Arizona Senate candidate, but Masters is viewed as the favorite to receive his endorsement. His campaign is also being supported by his former boss and mentor, technology investor Peter Thiel, who is spending at least $10 million to bankroll a campaign to support Masters.

Masters has already won the support of some extremist Republicans, most recently Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spoke to a white nationalist conference earlier this year. Other media reports have noted his past praise for the Unabomber, and Jewish Insider found that Masters had once penned an article in which he referenced a “poignant quotation” from Nazi leader Hermann Goering.

It’s unclear where the NRSC stands on all Republican candidates in Arizona, but Florida Sen. Rick Scott – who leads the group – was trying hard to convince term-limited Gov. Doug Ducey to jump into the race on several occasions, signaling possible disinterest in the field.

If the NRSC is serious that “Republicans will not take away contraception,” it might cause a slight hiccup in Masters’ candidacy should he win in the Aug. 2 primary.

***EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized other media reports as saying that Blake Masters had “praised” Nazi leader Hermann Goering. Specifically, Jewish Insider discovered a 2006 article in an obscure libertarian publication, in which Masters argued that America had not fought a “just war” since the Civil War, and asserted that the country had gone to war throughout the 20th Century to benefit “third party special interests.” To conclude his argument, Masters invoked a “poignant quotation” from Goering about how government leaders use propaganda to build public support for war. This article has been updated to change the reference to Masters’ 2006 writing, as well as to include comments he and his campaign made after this article was published.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

The Arizona Senate has spent $500,000 on election ‘audit’ legal fees

The Arizona Senate has spent more than $500,000 in taxpayer money related to the partisan election review it conducted in 2021, including on legal battles over public records and access to the audit facility.

Senate Republicans hired Phoenix-based law firm Statecraft to represent it on matters related to the so-called “audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County. That representation has included reviewing records for public release, litigation aimed at blocking the release of other records and a dispute with the Arizona Mirror and other local media over access to the audit. The Senate has released tens of thousands of records in response to public records requests from watchdog organizations and journalists, but is still fighting the release of others. The Arizona Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in one case related to legislative records on May 10.

In cases where the Senate has argued that some “audit”-related records aren’t public, courts have roundly rejected claims that the records aren’t public because they were created or retained by the contractors the Senate hired to do the election review. Instead, the courts have said that the Senate’s position would render the public records law meaningless.

“Allowing the legislature to disregard the clear mandate of the (public records law) would undermine the integrity of the legislative process and discourage transparency,” which would run counter to the purpose of Arizona’s public records law, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled.

Senate President Karen Fann appealed the case about records created by Cyber Ninjas, the now-defunct company hired to conduct the election review, to the state Supreme Court. But that court declined to take it up, leaving the appellate court ruling in place.

According to the latest invoices, Statecraft has now billed Fann and the Senate roughly $502,000 since April 2021, when the audit began. (Payments to Statecraft go as far back as December 2020 over separate legal matters.)

More than a year later, tens of thousands of documents were turned over — but only those that were in the Senate’s possession. Cyber Ninjas, the now-defunct firm that Fann hired to oversee the election review, has not turned over any records, even in the face of $50,000 daily fines for failing to do so. The company and its CEO, Doug Logan, continue to fight turning over documents to the point a judge named Logan and his wife personally responsible for the records moving forward, even as the tally for the fines has risen to $4.1 million.

Nearly every claim that Fann’s so-called audit team made about the 2020 general election was either inaccurate, misleading or patently false. The “audit” was spurred by President Donald Trump’s campaign in order to overturn the results, and was overseen by people with no election experience who helped form many of the bogus conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

The most recent invoice requested $10,824 for the entire month of March. Attorneys at Statecraft are paid $350 per hour.

There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and even Cyber Ninjas’ report in September reaffirmed Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

***CORRECTION: This story and its headline have been changed. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Statecraft billed the Arizona Senate $500,000 solely for public records litigation. While representing the Senate in that litigation is included in that total, it is only a portion of work that the law firm has done. It has also reviewed and redacted tens of thousands of Senate records for public release and advised the Senate on other issues related to the election review conducted in 2021. It is unclear how much of the legal fees went toward litigation, review of records and other matters: The billing records released by the Senate are redacted. The story and headline have been updated to reflect that and to update the status of the Senate’s public records litigation.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP guv hopeful Karrin Taylor Robson: The 2020 election ‘wasn’t fair’ to Trump

Karrin Taylor Robson, a Republican candidate for Arizona governor, doesn’t think Joe Biden was fairly elected president in 2020.

It’s the most definitive statement she has made about the election during the course of her campaign, which launched nearly a year ago: “Joe Biden may be the president, but the election wasn’t fair.”

Robson’s statement to The New York Times for a story about Republicans in Arizona centering their campaigns around bogus and debunked election fraud claims didn’t include any elaboration on what she thought was unfair about an election that officials across Arizona and the country have said was the most safe and secure election in history.

Robson’s campaign told the Arizona Mirror that the Times didn’t use the “entirety” of her statement. Matthew Benson, a campaign spokesman, provided the full statement to the Mirror:

“Joe Biden may be the president, but the election wasn’t fair. States across the country changed their voting rules in the weeks and months before the election; the mainstream media generally refused to cover stories harmful to Joe Biden; and Big Tech actively suppressed conservative voices. No wonder a sizable percentage of Arizona Republicans still feel the way they do about 2020.”

Benson wouldn’t elaborate further on differentiating between media criticisms – presumably the Hunter Biden laptop story, which Robson had tweeted about previously – and critiquing how the actual election was handled. In response to questions seeking more specificity, Benson pointed generally to other states changing voting rules shortly before the election. He didn’t provide specifics, but some states enacted new voting procedures in 2020 to ensure that voters could vote safely in the middle of a deadly global pandemic.

In some instances, those new procedures related to expanding early or absentee voting programs. But that wasn’t the case in Arizona, which has been a national leader on early voting. Voting by mail is incredibly popular here, and nearly 90% of Arizona voters cast an early ballot in 2020.

But Republicans, led by twice-impeached former President Donald Trump, have falsely claimed that early voting is a vector for election fraud.

Republicans in Arizona and in state legislatures across the nation are pushing hundreds of measures to add barriers to voting and make it easier for them to overturn results they don’t like, often under the guise of stopping the exceedingly rare election fraud that they falsely claim is the reason why Democrats won close races in 2018 and 2020.

Robson, a developer and former university regent, is locked in a three-way race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination with Kari Lake and Matt Salmon. Lake has made the Big Lie — the false notion that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump by widespread and coordinate fraud — a central theme of her campaign, and she was endorsed by Trump last year.

Robson’s comments come just one day after Maricopa County officials lambasted Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich for his interim report on his office’s investigation into the “audit” that took place throughout 2021. They broke down point-by-point correcting the record of all the claims Brnovich and others have been pushing under the guise of “raising questions” for the sake of election integrity.

The board of supervisors (four of which are Republican) were joined by Stephen Richer, the Republican county recorder who defeated the incumbent Democrat in the 2020 election, airing their frustrations that have continued to build for well over a year.

Richer told the Arizona Mirror his initial reaction to Robson’s printed quote is that he has no idea what she means by “wasn’t fair.” But hearing the full statement, he said there is some validity in her concerns over “legacy media” coverage of the Hunter Biden story and potentially others that could have been damaging to the now-president.

But as far as her other remarks about how states across the country changed rules at the last minute, he said he could only speak to Arizona, which extended the voter registration deadline for 10 days after the 9th Circuit reversed a federal judge’s decision to extend it even longer.

That, he said, is the only thing that caused a “disruption in the process in the name of COVID.” But he conceded that it likely benefited Republicans more than Democrats given the party registration numbers reported in that window. He said it was still probably a relatively small difference.

Richer said the continued spreading of debunked theories by Robson and others as “myopic” in nature.

The misinformation over the 2020 election led Richer to create his own political action committee called Pro-Democracy Republicans of Arizona which would boost campaign coffers of Republican candidates who reject the false and baseless claims that the last election was rigged.

It was only meant to help legislative and county-wide candidates, not statewide. To date, none of the money raised has gone to the campaign of any candidates, according to campaign finance reports on the Secretary of State’s website.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona's pro-Trump attorney general faces backlash for issuing 'false' report on 2020 election

In a scathing letter, Maricopa County officials laid into Attorney General Mark Brnovich for issuing a report last month that was “full of false innuendo and misrepresentations” about the 2020 election.

“When election integrity is challenged, we have the collective responsibility to investigate and report our conclusions thoroughly and honestly. We have. You have not,” county leaders wrote. “The 2020 election was fair and the results indisputable. Rather than being truthful about what your office has learned about the election, you have omitted pertinent information, misrepresented facts, and cited distorted data to seed doubt about the conduct of elections in Maricopa County.”

The letter, which was signed by all five county supervisors and Recorder Stephen Richer, goes point by point to correct the record of all the claims Brnovich kept alive in his report last month.

County Chairman Bill Gates, Supervisor Thomas Galvin and Recorder Stephen Richer are all attorneys and took Brnovich’s false and misleading claims even more personally as such.

“Given the oaths you took as both a lawyer and elected official, we were shocked by your April 6th letter,” they wrote.

In subsequent comments, Richer said Brnovich was acting irresponsibly. When a chief law enforcement officer like Brnovich is trafficking in false claims about the 2020 election, it carries more weight than the average politician using it for “sport,” he said

The letter notes Brnovich contradicted himself when he went on Fox Business shortly after the election to dismiss fraud claims and explain that Donald Trump lost while other GOP candidates won because Republican voters split their tickets. That is a common occurrence in Arizona especially over the past two cycles which saw Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema get elected together in 2018.

The county officials also criticized Brnovich for omitting important details from his interim report, including “inaccurate allegation of deleted election files” that the state Senate’s partisan “auditors” claimed they found and that the county rebutted. They accused Brnovich of leaving that and similarly debunked claims out of the report because it would “undermine the intended political narrative.”

Maricopa County ‘audit’ response slams claims as false and misleading

And Maricopa County once again pushed back on Brnovich’s claims of election officials failing to maintain a chain of custody for 100,000 ballots, saying his investigators did not spend much time looking into it.

“Your agents spent less than one hour reviewing the statements at the Election Department and had no follow up questions about the forms that went unanswered,” the letter states.

Additionally, Brnovich claimed the county didn’t fulfill records requests in a timely manner –– which the county has adamantly denied –– and now the county in response has requested a records log from the AG seeking how long it has taken them to fill public records requests in the past two years.

During the accompanying open meeting where the supervisors voted unanimously to approve sending Brnovich the letter, each of the five supervisors and Richer took turns laying into Brnovich, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate this year.

Galvin called Brnovich a “rogue attorney general.”

“If anyone cares about election integrity, it’s the five of us on this board and Recorder Richer,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we have a rogue attorney general who has crossed the line,”

Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board of supervisors, compared Brnovich to former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who was eventually disbarred after unethical behavior in office which included attacks on the supervisors at the time.

“He should be held accountable. He is an officer of the court. He should be held accountable by the State Bar. He should be held accountable by the voters of Arizona,” Gallardo said.

Brnovich has run afoul of the Bar’s ethics rules already: Earlier this year he agreed to a diversion plan for suing his clients, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the Arizona Board of Regents. There is no indication the supervisors or Richer intend to file a complaint of their own.

Gallardo also called on Brnovich to resign and predicted that Brnovich is likely to lose in the August primary. He joins Democratic attorney general candidate Kris Mayes in calling on Brnovich to leave his office this week.

The county also noted in its letter that Brnovich’s office hasn’t ever issued an interim report for an investigation prior to this one. Issuing last month’s report to “score cheap political points” is below his office, they claimed.

“You spread misinformation and seed doubt, which has led to renewed threats and harassment of County election staff. Today, we call on you to correct the record. For the health of our democracy. For the safety and wellbeing of our public servants. For the sake of your conscience and the oath of office you swore,” they wrote.

They ended the letter questioning whether he would choose to help build public confidence for the elections coming up this year or “continue to undermine it.”

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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GOP governor's top aide raised nearly $13k from lobbyists whose cash he promised to shun

When Matt Gress, the budget director for Gov. Doug Ducey, launched his campaign for the Arizona House of Representatives in December, he promised not to accept any contributions from lobbyists during the legislative session to avoid the appearance that his campaign might influence his work for the state.

His first campaign finance report in 2022 shows he did not follow through on that promise.

Between the start of the annual legislative session on Jan. 10 and March 31, Gress received 24 separate contributions from lobbyists totaling nearly $13,000.

For the quarter, Gress reported raising $183,000 in his bid to win the Republican nomination in District 4.

Back in January, Gress told the Arizona Republic that he would hold himself to the same standard as lawmakers, who are barred by state law from raising money from lobbyists — but not their clients — during the annual legislative session.

“While state law doesn’t require it, I’ve made the decision to adhere to the standards governing lawmakers while they are in session. Therefore, I will not be accepting campaign donations from registered lobbyists while the Legislature is in session.” Gress said.

It was seen as a way to not have any appearance of unethical behavior given said lobbyists are usually hoping to gain something in their favor — typically in the form of legislation benefiting one of their clients.

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Lawmakers are currently in the middle of a budget stalemate. As Ducey’s chief budget aide, Gress plays a pivotal role in the process of negotiating a budget deal with legislators.

Gress first said in a written statement that any money received from lobbyists “were given before the start of the legislative session and reported when received by the campaign treasurer.” That, he said, includes several transactions dated on January 26, more than two weeks after session began.

However, Gress had a different explanation for lobbyist money he received two months later. On March 29 — the 79th day of the session — Gress received his largest lobbyist contribution : Arizona Public Service CEO Jeff Guldner gave Gress $5,300, the maximum amount allowable under state law.

Gress brushed it off by saying Guldner, who is registered as a lobbyist, isn’t really a lobbyist.

“He’s a leader within multiple business organizations, and the CEO of one of the largest employers in the state. No one thinks of Jeff as a lobbyist who is spending his days under the Capitol dome influencing legislation,” he told the Arizona Mirror in a text message. “The fact that he filed paperwork out of an abundance of caution doesn’t change my view.”

Guldner is one of a dozen APS executives who are registered as “authorized lobbyists” of the monopoly utility and its parent company, Pinnacle West, because they communicate with lawmakers to influence legislation on behalf of the company.

Gress said his logic also applies to David Adame, the president and CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa, who contributed $520 to Gress’ campaign on March 31. Like Guldner, Adame is registered as an “authorized lobbyist” for the company he leads.

Ducey last month signed bills that would benefit APS — one of which the utility joined with other utilities in hiring 107 lobbyists to get the bill into a law. That new law, which goes into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends, ensures APS and other regulated monopoly utilities will face no electric retail competition in Arizona.

Pinnacle West also gave Gress $7,500 through its political action committee.

And Gress’ campaign received checks from the Arizona Police Association, which supported multiple bills Ducey signed into law this year, and Southwest Gas which, like APS, lobbied for the retail competition bill to pass.

A decade ago, Gress would have been required to resign from his government job in order to run for office. But that law was changed in 2012 to allow government employees to continue cashing taxpayer checks while seeking public office.

Attorney Tom Ryan called it “shameful” and “disgusting” that Gress continues to work on the Ninth Floor while seeking a seat in the Arizona House.

“Arizona has gutted many of its conflict of interest laws and, supposedly, people will act out of selflessness and will act in the best interest of the state of Arizona. But as we can see, that's simply not true,” he said, pointing to a recent study showing Arizona among the worst states for government corruption.

He said Gress’ campaign finance report shows that the Republican was lying about not taking lobbyist money during the session.

“He's supposed to be supporting and pushing the governor's agenda on a budget. It's just vile and disgusting,” Ryan told the Mirror.

While Ryan said receiving the money during the session poses a problem in itself — especially since Gress said he wouldn’t do that — he found it more troubling that Gress has mounted a campaign for the legislature while working in the Governor’s Office.

Lobbyists giving Gress money for his campaign aren’t doing so out of the goodness of their heart, Ryan said.

“What he's doing is lying to the Arizona public. The question is, will people in his legislative district understand that or not? But he's clearly lying about not accepting money from lobbyists,” Ryan said.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

The bizarre story behind the parachuting hot dog in Doug Ducey's COVID-19 briefing

The hot dog slowly falling from the sky, held aloft by a surgical mask parachute, that loomed behind Gov. Doug Ducey during a July 30, 2020, press conference almost wasn't even a hot dog. It could have been a beer bottle, a guitar or a dumbbell, according to public records.

But the governor chose the hot dog.

Tim Riester, the CEO of Riester advertising agency, was one of the creators of the 15-second PSA to encourage Arizonans to wear masks to limit the spread of COVID-19 that featured the hot dog drifting from the sky with the caption “Save live sports. Wear a mask." Riester produced the ad, but collaborated with nine other advertising agencies in the state to develop ideas for free, while the state government would front the cost to get the selected advertisements more views.

At the time, Ducey said the state would spend $3 million on the advertising. The governor's office would not answer questions about how much was actually spent.

The ad was a response to the state's first major peak in COVID-19 cases, and came some six weeks after Ducey allowed local governments to mandate mask use. Its goal was to persuade Arizonans to wear masks as a common-sense strategy to mitigate spread of the novel coronavirus.

Riester told the Arizona Mirror that it was a “special moment" in his three-decade career to work with the other agencies for the greater good.

“It was a time where all of our businesses were really hurt by the pandemic, but by sharing the responsibility, we were able to do the right thing for the state," he said in a phone interview.

According to public records, the Riester agency pitched six ideas and landed two: The parachuting hot dog and one pushing back on the idea that wearing a mask wasn't manly.

“Several recently published studies … show that many men are hesitant to wear masks or take other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 because they feel these activities make them look weak," the pitch behind the “masks are masculine" idea read. “This campaign quickly and directly proves the opposite."

The ideas that were not selected by Ducey and his office included a coordinated campaign from some of Arizona's most notable athletes, a campaign just called “#MAZK" (deliberately misspelling “mask" to incorporate “AZ"), a simple campaign titled “masks work," that focuses on Arizonans wearing masks for the purpose of getting back to work and one other idea aimed at feeling “empathy toward job creators."

Ducey's office repeatedly declined to answer questions about the parachuting hot dog ad or the process to select it. Instead, it provided a written statement when 177 pages of records were handed over. The records were also missing requested information without any explanation provided.

“The COVID-19 advertising campaign was intended to promote public health and allow Arizona to remain open for business during the pandemic," CJ Karamargin, Ducey's communications director, wrote. “There are so many examples of community members stepping up to volunteer their services. That includes the time and effort volunteered from local advertising agencies to communicate public health strategies to Arizonans across the state."

'Toxic' politics or just a bad idea?

The parachuting hot dog ad was roundly criticized and mocked immediately, with a lot of confusion about why a hot dog was used to encourage mask use at all. Records show Ducey's top staffers blamed the backlash on politics rather than the idea potentially being bad.

But the records showed that Ducey's top aides chose the hot dog option over other pitches, including initial suggestions from the Riester agency that the parachuting item be a beer bottle to “save your favorite bar" or a guitar to “save live music" or a dumb bell to “save your local gym."

Riester's chief creative officer Tom Ortega explained the purpose of the PSA to Arizona Republic columnist Bill Goodykoontz. After, Ducey's then-chief of staff Daniel Scarpinato wrote to the Riester agency, “Your team did a great job. We are in a very toxic political environment."

Riester, the CEO, replied minutes later, “The political environment is nuts. You are doing the right thing and it will save lives and our economy. Keep pushing!!"

In another email, he wrote, “Let's kick this virus' ass and get our population and economy back in shape!"

Riester told the Mirror that wearing a mask became highly politicized from “the federal leader at the time," and credits that for the negative reaction, not because it was a hot dog using a mask as a parachute. (He was referencing Donald Trump, but would not name him directly.)

“I think that created some negativity around any message that could be published with masks, and that's unfortunate that we see that still today where a lot of people — because of mixed messaging — didn't get a vaccine or they didn't wear a mask, and now a lot of those are the people who are in the ICU," Riester said.

June and July of 2020 were the highest points at the time for all Covid metrics in the state. Arizona was the worst place for Covid in the world — a feat it would accomplish again six months later — and deaths were continuing to climb rapidly.

Ducey had spent months resisting calls for a statewide mandate for mask use in public. At weekly COVID-19 media briefings, he paid lip service to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that people wear masks, but refused to be seen wearing a mask or to let cities and counties require masks — an action they couldn't take because Ducey had barred them from doing so. But after weeks of public pressure, he relented and untied the cities' hands, allowing them to impose local mask mandates.

More than 19,000 Arizonans have succumbed to the virus and more than 1 million have tested positive to date.

Alec Esteban Thomson, Ducey's former director of strategic initiatives and campaigns, led the state's “Mask Up Arizona" campaign and ran point on the effort to find the advertisements. According to several email exchanges, Thomson, Scarpinato and Daniel Ruiz (Ducey's current chief of staff who was the state's COO at the time) are the ones who selected the hot dog. Riester said he was never given a concrete reason as to why Ducey's office liked the hot dog more than his other pitches.

Thomson wrote to Riester during the planning stages that he thought the ads “have real potential for impact." Thomson now works for the local ad agency Lavidge, one of the ten agencies involved in the planning, and could not be reached for comment.

Riester also said he had not heard from Ducey or his office about doing another ad to get people to mask up again.

The parachuting hot dog ad, and the mockery it prompted, still seems to be a sore subject for the governor. When a reporter referenced the ad at a recent media event, Ducey snapped at the press pool.

Best of the wurst?

The most comprehensive pitch that never made it into a finalized version incorporated a social media campaign that would reward citizens for opting to mask up. It was called “protect your game" and compared wearing a mask to prevent Covid to famous professional athletes who must wear masks to protect their face from injury.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelley and former Arizona Coyotes' goalie Darcy Kuemper would each be shown wearing their respective masks for their sports.

“The campaign will inspire our audience to gear up, too," the pitch read. “Through the words and voices of our local sports icons, they will get the message that masks are for people who want to keep playing. So, everyone needs to get theirs on. Or spend the rest of the year on the sideline."

The targeted audience for the ad was men, people between the ages of 20-30 and 40-45 and also the Hispanic and Spanish speaking communities as those — at the time — were the ones with the highest positivity, according to some research.

Arizonans who wore masks could also post selfies using the internet hashtag “score my mask" and enter to win signed memorabilia from one of the aforementioned athletes.

Ducey did not pick that idea.

Instead, he went with the hot dog.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.