Bill Stemming From Hobbs’ Controversial Inaugural Fund Management Clears Senate Committee
By Daniel Stefanski |
Last week, the bipartisan Arizona Senate Government Committee accomplished something that will be a rare feat under the divided government between the State Legislature and the Governor’s Office: a unanimous 8-0 vote.
The panel, chaired by Senator Jake Hoffman, met on February 19, to consider one of Senator Wendy Rogers’ bills, SB 1299, which deals with the governor reporting inauguration expenses. According to the Arizona Senate’s purpose for the bill, SB 1299 “requires 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.”
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. Arizona Public Services (APS) gave $250,000, Blue Cross Blue Shield sent $100,000 – as did both the Realtors Issues Mobilization Committee and Sunshine Residential Homes.
But even with the uncovered donor list, lawmakers still wanted more transparency from Hobbs – and so far, they haven’t received full cooperation from Arizona’s new chief executive. 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.”
More than two weeks after the receipt of the Petersen-Toma letter, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Livingston fired off his own letters to Governor Katie Hobbs and her campaign manager, “asking for a complete accounting of the funds, as well as any documents and other records associated with their solicitation.” Representative Livingston’s press release stated that the Governor has so far refused to follow in her predecessors’ footsteps and transfer the leftover money in the Inaugural Fund to the state’s Protocol Fund, as the Petersen-Toma letter broached – nor, as Livingston added, has she responded to their letter. Livingston’s letter came just before SB 1299 was considered before – and passed – by the Senate Government Committee.
Senator Rogers’ legislation would require the Governor’s office to post the name of each committee or entity or entity that is organizing, supporting, or funding the inauguration; the name and address of the chair and treasurer of the organization; the name and address of an individual that donates anything of value to the organization; the name and address of any corporation or business entity that donates anything of value to the organization; and an itemized list of the amount and type of goods and services purchased by the organization.
Democrat Senator Juan Mendez voted to approve SB 1299 in the Government Committee, but wanted the public to know that he didn’t want his “yes vote to legitimize the irrelevant discussion that we all just had to sit through,” adding his wish that “the bills we focused on were bills that would actually address real Arizona problems and weren’t clearly a waste of public resources for the use of political theater to fundraise off of.”
Chairman Hoffman had the last word on the bill, saying that “we want to prevent state elected officials from breaking the law by misusing public funds to influence the outcome of elections.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.