The Daily Agenda: Corruption, but the legal kind
Everyone's on the payroll ... Calling in sick to go see some racecars ... And a brief interlude for some anime.
In case you needed another striking example of our state’s woefully inadequate corruption and transparency laws, the Republic’s Ray Stern has you covered.
Four Democratic lawmakers were on the payroll of Chicanos Por La Causa, one of the most politically savvy organizations in the state and a staple at the Capitol, while pushing CPLC’s bills through the legislature that doled out $5 million in discretionary COVID-19 funds to the organization.
The lawmakers — Reps. Cesar Chavez, Alma Hernandez, Robert Meza and Lorenzo Sierra — all refused to say how much money they’ve pocketed from what we can only imagine are cushy gigs, and CPLC refused to say the kind of work that legislative Democrats did on its behalf.
But here’s the really infuriating part: They don’t have to. That’s because Arizona has toothless corruption, accountability and transparency laws that desperately need reform.
Lawmakers are required to disclose their sources of income on financial disclosure forms, but not the amount of income. And there’s even an easy way around that minimal disclosure — create an LLC and declare that as your source of income, not the political clients who are paying you through the LLC. That’s how Sierra did it, and there’s nothing illegal about it.
But let’s forget about disclosure and look at the larger picture: Arizonans don’t want their lawmakers on the payroll of some organization lobbying at the Capitol, sponsoring bills for their employers, even if they’re up front about it.
So why is that allowed? Because, as we noted in yesterday’s footnote, the “rule of 10” states that lawmakers don’t have a “substantial” financial interest in a bill if it would also affect at least 10 other people. That’s almost literally anything, as Stern notes.
“So when former Rep. Eddie Farnsworth voted on charter school bills despite owning a charter school operation, Sen. David Gowan sponsored a fireworks bill that benefited (his) own fireworks business, or lawmakers got paid by CPLC while voting on bills that could help CPLC, there is no issue under present law,” Stern wrote.
As it stands, it’s up to lawmakers to disclose if they have a conflict of interest in voting for a bill, and whether that conflict is enough to abstain from the vote. Few think their conflicts are worthy1 of disclosure.
And for those who break the rule, the only real accountability comes from voters or their colleagues voting to expel them (or felony bribery charges, which are almost impossible to prosecute without a smoking gun AZScam-style video of politicians explicitly stating they’re taking money for a bribe).
Considering we only pay them $24,000 per year2 and almost all lawmakers have day jobs, it’s no surprise that lawmakers tend to look the other way when their colleagues have seemingly obvious conflicts.
House Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding, for example, barred his caucus from doling out COVID-19 funds to CPLC, but still couldn’t bring himself to condemn his colleagues for taking the gigs and attempted to minimize how improper the arrangement is, saying "it looks like the appearance of some things."
Let’s start by calling it what it is. When lawmakers push bills on behalf of their employers and use their elected offices to benefit their bosses and not the people, it’s corruption. If not by a legal definition, certainly by a common one.
Help us pay ourselves more than $24,000 per year so we don’t have to take side hustles with CPLC. Subscribe as a paying member now for just $70 per year before we put up the paywall and increase the price.
Good luck getting a nursing job: A judge sided with two nursing students at the Maricopa Community Colleges who said the required clinical rotations for their degrees, which would have required vaccinations because of hospitals’ policies, violated their freedom of religion. The judge didn’t address the whole case yet, but granted a preliminary injunction, which will require the colleges to provide alternative accommodations for the students, the Republic’s Alison Steinbach reports.
Our invite must’ve gotten lost in the mail: U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema actually talked to local reporters yesterday, now that the infrastructure bill she championed passed the House of Representatives. She said she’s still working to get things done on the social infrastructure plan and isn’t concerned about critics in her own party, the Republic’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez reports.
“The lesson that I take from (the) elections, whether they be my own or others, is that folks — they expect results. They’re less interested in the talking heads on television and the partisan talking points on cable TV. They’re less interested in the tweets. What they are interested in is who is delivering results that make a difference in their lives. And so what I pledge to you and to folks throughout Arizona is to continue to do what I’ve always done, which is just put my head down, stay focused on the work, and deliver results for Arizonans,” Sinema said.
No such thing as a conflict of interest in Arizona: The Constable Ethics, Standards and Training Board, which oversees the constables who evict people, is administered by an outside contractor, a rare, perhaps singular, arrangement in state government. That contracted group, Capitol Consulting, shares a CEO with the Arizona Multihousing Association, a landlord group, the Republic’s Jessica Boehm, Catherine Reagor and Ralph Chapoco report.
Once again, why do we elect these positions?: The same group of Republic reporters wrote another piece looking at the constables (we love it — we were on that beat a minute ago). Their story mentions some of the same constable behavioral issues that we wrote about, like public urination and super fast driving. They also discuss the difficulty of disciplining constables when complaints arise.
At least it’s not the University of Austin?: When the University of Arizona bought Ashford, a for-profit college with a string of problems, and turned it into UA Global Campus, faculty worried it would harm the UA brand. And now, the accreditor of the UA Global Campus still has concerns about the college’s academics and plans to come visit to look into it, the Arizona Daily Star’s Kathryn Palmer writes.
She was busy: In the wake of an ESPN report that detailed allegations of racist and sexist comments by Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego wouldn’t comment and Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio called the allegations “insane,” the Republic’s Paulina Pineda and Jen Fifield report.
Another referendum bites the dust: The Invest in Arizona coalition didn’t get enough valid signatures to force a public vote on the legislature’s circumvention of a tax on high-income earners, according to the signature review. But the group says they should have enough valid signatures to refer the legislature’s flat-tax law to the ballot, the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl reports.
We think you’re smart enough not to just pick the first candidate listed on a ballot: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments on whether Democratic election groups have standing to sue Arizona over the order in which candidates appear on ballots, Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer reports. Whichever party wins the governor’s race in each county gets to put their party first on ballots, the law says now.
More map content: This year’s Arizona political mapmaking is operating without a higher level of oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice for the first time. Instead, there’s a lower standard in place where the onus is on people to sue if they believe a map is racially discriminatory toward any group, the Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda reports. Some say they see a difference in the voting power of Latino and Native American voters because of this change.
RIP, Mama Linda: A woman who lived on the streets in Tucson became one of the city’s murder victims in a record-breaking year for homicides in the city. The Daily Star’s Tim Steller shares remembrances of Linda Mendibles and the way the murder of a 70-year-old woman shocked those who knew her.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar has once again successfully trolled the libs with his horrendous mashup of anime breakout hit “Attack on Titan” with poorly photoshopped congressional faces on the characters of the violent and gory TV adaption of the comic.
The hot takes are flying about whether he should be banned from Twitter (which put a warning on the tweet), as is condemnation for depicting himself as killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking Joe Biden. (AOC responded by declaring him a “collection of wet toothpicks.”)
We’re not surprised that Gosar latched on to the themes of racism, nationalism and isolationism, not to mention the simple imagery of a wall being attacked by non-humans. But as we wasted an hour talking to other fans of the show yesterday, we couldn’t escape the fact that he seemed to be taking the exact wrong message from the show, at least for anybody who has seen past Season 1.
Which brings us to today’s tidbit: this fascinating article in The New Republic called “Why Attack on Titan Is the Alt-Right’s Favorite Manga.”
You don’t need to watch the show to understand the article, which takes on the issue of how our political leanings allow two people to watch the same show and come away with very different takes on what it’s about.
The City of Tucson is recruiting applicants for the jobs of people who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine, in defiance of the city’s mandate, and so far, they’re getting a lot of takers, Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik writes in his weekly newsletter. The newsletter gives some insight into managing a vaccine mandate, including how to limit disruption to city services and the challenges with accommodations.
And there are some ridiculous elements to managing the policy, too: He said there’s a doctor giving out a bevy of medical exemptions without much inquiry, and some employees seem to be proud of getting accommodations instead of the vaccination. There’s been an increase of employees calling in sick in some departments, he said.
One employee called in sick, then posted photos at a NASCAR event, writing, “The boys had a good time.”
The Arizona House of Representatives’ Forest and Wildfire Management Ad Hoc Committee meets today at the Globe City Council chambers at 1 p.m. to hear presentations and public comment about several wildfires. The agenda and information on a livestream can be found here.
A handful of school boards meet tonight: Laveen at 5:30 p.m., Madison at 6 p.m., Balsz at 6:30 p.m., Kyrene at 7 p.m. and Deer Valley at 7 p.m.
Alma Hernandez, one of the four on CPLC’s payroll, did abstain from one vote on an ambulance-related bill — because she and her brother, Rep. Daniel Hernandez, had a “landlord” who had a conflict of interest.
Regrettably, we don’t have time for a rant about landlords specifically, but suffice to say that rural politicians rent rooms or houses in Phoenix from all manner of lobbyists. (Last we checked, Republican Sen. David Gowan, for example, was still crashing during the legislative session with former House staffer turned pot lobbyist Brett Mecum.)
We’re firmly in favor of paying politicians a living wage. It makes them slightly less corruptible. Voters in Tucson almost approved a wage increase for their mayor and council members, but the measure was narrowly defeated. Typically, any requests for salary increases for politicians fail at the ballot because people don’t really like politicians. But a higher wage makes for fewer comprising side jobs.