Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Arizona needs a public corruption commission

Are you outraged by the Fiesta Bowl scandal? You’re not alone if you’re not.

Despite being the worst public corruption scandal in Arizona since AZscam, in which state officials took bribes from a Las Vegas gambler looking to expand gambling to Arizona, there is little public outcry about the bowl scandal.

Perhaps it’s because no one has been charged with a crime yet. But the information released so far is more than enough to disgust any voter or taxpayer not suffering from blind partisanship.

When taken in context with the other public corruption scandal rocking the state, the mess in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, it’s clear that Arizona’s public officials have an honesty problem that we all need to be worried about.

In the bowl scandal, a report by an auditor hired by the bowl committee and concurrent and subsequent investigations by the Arizona Republic, show that over a 10-year period bowl officials lavished key state legislators and some Phoenix-area elected officials with tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, trips and campaign donations.

Among them is Senate President Russell Pearce, who has repeatedly lied about the gifts and trips he’s received from the Fiesta Bowl and about whether he championed legislation that aided the bowl. A story in Republic last week detailed his work for the bowl and the gifts, tickets, trips and campaign donations he got from numerous bowl officials, all of whom, according to the bowl investigative report, were reimbursed by the bowl for their donations, which is a violation of state law.

One of the most outrageous outcomes of the Fiesta Bowl report was the stampede of state legislators to the Secretary of State’s office to file amended financial disclosure statements for years past listing all the gifts, tickets and trips they got from the Fiesta Bowl over the years. It seems they all forgot about the state law requiring disclosure of such gifts and that some of what they got state law prohibits.

How many other lobbyists and corporations have lavished legislators with gifts that they “forgot” they were supposed to disclose? It strains all credulity to assume that only the Fiesta Bowl gave legislators gifts over the years.

Meanwhile, down the street from the Capitol building, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is trying to hang on to his reputation as the nation’s best and toughest cop after an independent investigation of his chief deputy revealed corruption and nepotism. Arpaio, who in the past has claimed there isn’t anything that goes on in his agency that he doesn’t know about, is trying to convince Maricopa county residents that he had no idea his No. 2 man had become a latter day Boss Tweed.

The federal government is investigating Arpaio and clan but so far only Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has stepped up to investigate the Fiesta Bowl. He has since declared a conflict of interest and turned the investigation over to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who has close ties to Arpaio.

Arizona has been plagued with repeated public corruption scandals for decades. In the 1970s, Republic reporter Don Bolles lost his life investigating Mafia corruption of state officials. His death led to the Arizona Project, in which investigative journalists from around the country picked up where Bolles left off and produced a report that revealed widespread corruption at all levels of Arizona government.

Less than 20 years later, the AZscam scandal broke. Two governors also were forced out of office because of their own corrupt business dealings.

The Fiesta Bowl and Arpaio scandals reveal that corruption is still business as usual in Arizona.

Arizona needs an independent public corruption commission with subpoena power to clean up the state’s politics and give voters some trust that the people they elect are not just in it for the money and power.

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