By Daniel Stefanski |
An Arizona Republican legislator has renewed his efforts to hold the state’s Democrat chief executive accountable to the rule of law.
On Wednesday, Representative David Livingston filed a complaint and request for investigation with Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, regarding Governor Katie Hobbs’ use of state resources to influence elections pursuant to state statutes. This action from Livingston follows an earlier attempt from the legislator to obtain a legal opinion on “whether Arizona law allows a Governor-Elect to fundraise for political entities that make expenditures to influence elections through a state website promoting inaugural events.” In this latest effort, Representative Livingston revealed that Attorney General Mayes had “declined to provide a legal opinion, stating there were factual questions that made the issue inappropriate for a legal opinion.”
Livingston released the following statement in conjunction with his announcement: “State law prohibits using public resources, including websites, to influence elections. As the Attorney General has already acknowledged, there are unanswered factual questions here that warrant an immediate and thorough investigation. If Governor Hobbs had simply transferred the leftover funds to the state protocol account like former Governors have done, it would not be necessary to file my complaint. But the Governor’s unprecedented actions and refusal to provide information to me about where the funds went, who controls the funds, and how the funds will be spent left me with no choice. As the state’s chief legal officer charged with investigating potential violations of Title 16, the Attorney General must scrutinize these transactions and seek judicial relief if necessary to remedy past violations and prevent future violations of state law.”
The state lawmaker argues that the Arizona Attorney General’s Office “is empowered to investigate potential violations of Title 16,” pointing out that “Mayes invoked this authority earlier this year when she filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Cochise County, citing concerns that without taking legal action, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors might hide actions that should be done publicly in compliance with Arizona’s open meeting law.”
This issue rose to importance earlier this year as Arizona lawmakers received murky and incomplete information about Hobbs’ inaugural fund, which totaled more than $1.5 million in the lead-up to her inauguration at the State Capitol on January 5. After multiple weeks of questions, Hobbs’ campaign manager released the donor list, showing 120 contributors to the fund.
Even with the uncovered donor list, lawmakers wanted more transparency from Hobbs, but they weren’t finding the level of cooperation they sought from her Office. Reports showed that the inauguration cost $207,000, which was a fraction of the funds received from the Hobbs’ Inaugural Fund. With knowledge of how much was raised and spent from the fund, Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma sent a letter to the Governor on January 26, asking her to “commit the balance of her $1.3 million inaugural fund proceeds to the state, as past governors have, for the sake of transparency & accountability to the people of Arizona.”
The legislative leaders wrote that “Given….the Inaugural Fund’s own descriptive title, Arizonans would have reasonably anticipated that any excess funds would be used for state interests. In any event, given the public resources that were utilized to solicit funds for the Inaugural Fund and to host the inauguration, it would be inappropriate to utilize any monies in the Inaugural Fund to influence an election.”
The governor’s actions in this matter prompted the introduction of SB 1299, sponsored by Senator Wendy Rogers, which dealt with the governor reporting inauguration expenses. The bill required “the Governor’s Office to publish on its website, within 15 days after the inauguration ceremony, information detailing each organization that organized, supported or funded the ceremony.” The proposal was passed out of both legislative chambers with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by Hobbs.
Representative Livingston’s communication to Attorney General Mayes references this legislation, stating that SB 1299 “is no impediment to your investigation. Because SB 1299 requires all inaugural donations to be deposited directly into the state protocol account, it prohibits future Governors and Governors-Elect from unlawfully using state resources to engage in political fundraising. However, SB 1299 does not have retroactive application and does not remedy past violations of A.R.S. 16-192.”
The legislator ends his referral letter with an exhortation for the state’s top cop to take his complaint seriously, writing, “No one is above the law, including Governor Hobbs.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.