A Republican prosecutor has cleared more than 30 Arizona politicians and three lobbyists of criminal wrongdoing in the Fiesta Bowl scandal, saying the state’s laws just weren’t tough enough for him to press charges.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has been investigating the politicians for eight months after news surfaced that almost a third of the legislature and other public officials had taken free football tickets and lavish trips from Fiesta Bowl organizers, while the game benefited from decisions made by public officials. But Montgomery said that evidence alone was not enough to convince him that the politicians and lobbyists had broken the law.
“Despite the public’s legitimate expectations that current laws ensure a reasonable degree of open and honest government, Arizona’s statutes governing receipt of gifts and reporting requirements fall short of meeting those expectations,” Montgomery said.
Leading the list of politicians who benefited from the college football game was former state Sen. Russell Pearce (pictured above), who reportedly took about $40,000 in tickets and trips over several years. Pearce came to national attention in 2010 for being the chief sponsor of Arizona’s harsh immigration law. Last month, he was voted out of office in a recall election, in part because of his role in the Fiesta Bowl scandal.
Pearce was one of several prominent Republicans who endorsed Montgomery’s bid to become the top prosecutor in Maricopa County last year. Montgomery was also backed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and state Rep. John Kavanagh, both of whom were also found to have taken gifts or trips paid for by the Fiesta Bowl.
Documents from the prosecutor showed Pearce declined to be interviewed by investigators, according to a tweet by Arizona journalist Brahm Resnik. Both Arpaio and Kavanagh were also investigated, but it’s unclear what their level of cooperation was.
Montgomery also revealed that two of the lobbyists investigated were Chuck Coughlin and Doug Cole, the top political strategists for Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
Coughlin and Cole engineered Brewer’s 2010 election, and state records show their consulting firm, HighGround, lobbied on behalf of the Fiesta Bowl from 2005 until January of this year. Brewer was not among the politicians investigated. In all, Montgomery said he looked at 28 current or former state legislators from both parties, three other public officials and three lobbyists.
Montgomery, said in news conference Wednesday it was up to the legislature to change the laws so that it would be illegal for Arizona politicians to take these kinds of gifts from lobbyists or organizations in the future.
“I trust that members of the legislature, sharing my concern for upholding the integrity of our respective offices, will address these recommendations in an appropriate manner,” Montgomery said in statement emailed to the media.
Montgomery isn’t the only one who’s been investigating the Fiesta Bowl. A federal grand jury last month indicted a bowl employee on suspicion of making illegal campaign contributions to various Arizona politicians. The indictment revealed that other, unnamed people were also under investigation but no one else has been charged so far.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com