The public relations and legal fallout continues after the nonprofit which accepted donations for Gov. Katie Hobbs’ public inauguration ceremony released the names of donors and the amount of each donation.
Hobbs was officially sworn in Jan. 2 during a private ceremony. She then held a public inauguration ceremony on Jan. 5. The information about who paid for that ceremony via the Katie Hobbs Inaugural Fund was finally released several days later, after attorney Tim La Sota threatened to sue Hobbs for violating public records laws.
The Katie Hobbs Inaugural Fund was registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission on Dec. 13 by Hobbs’ campaign manager Nicole DeMont as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit social welfare organization. DeMont is currently listed as the only director on ACC records.
DeMont and Hobbs have come under scrutiny for accepting $1.5 million from roughly 120 donors, including $250,000 from utility giant Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the owner of Arizona Public Service Co. (APS). But the event cost less than $210,000, according to public records.
Government transparency watchdogs are calling for an investigation into whether Hobbs’ inauguration team had a pre-event budget worked out and whether more money was intentionally accepted than needed. But La Sota says there also remains a question of whether Hobbs violated another Arizona law by using the state’s website to solicit money for her inauguration.
“That’s definitely a no-no,” La Sota told KFYI’s James T. Harris this week. “That’s no different hardly than just putting a link on the governor’s official state website to her campaign account and saying, ‘hey you know do you want to support me politically, go to my campaign.’”
La Sota also told Harris that donations to DeMont’s nonprofit reportedly entitled donors to preferred access and seating at Hobbs’ inauguration event held on public property.
Questions surrounding the inaugural fund have also led some Democrats across Arizona to express dismay, behind the scenes, that Hobbs put them in the position of having to publicly ignore the $1.5 million controversy, just years after leaders of the Democratic Party called for an investigation into the funding of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
There is also growing pushback to utility companies like APS getting so heavily involved in politics; public records show APS donated $850,000 to the failed gubernatorial campaign of Kari Lake.
APS responded to criticisms about its donation to the Katie Hobbs Inaugural Fund with a statement that the money came from shareholder funds and not from customer payments. However, the company’s image has taken a hit in the court of public opinion given the fact APS is currently seeking a rate increase.
Another large donor to the inauguration was Blue Cross Blue Shield, which anted up $100,000, as did the lobby arm of the National Association of Realtors along with Arizona Realtors. There was also $100,000 donated by Sunshine Residential Homes Inc., a for-profit company that contracts with the State of Arizona to provide some child welfare services.
The rest of the donations ranged from $10 to $50,000; several were from entities like Union Pacific, the Arizona Dispensary Association, and Salt River Project which have dealing with various state agencies.
So what happens to the $1 million plus left on the books of the nonprofit created for Hobbs inauguration?
According to the IRS, the money can be spent on anything DeMont desires, provided it falls under the very broad category of promoting social welfare within the IRS code for a 501(c)(4).
“To be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements),” according to the IRS.
In addition, seeking legislation germane to the nonprofits programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes.
“Thus, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may further its exempt purposes through lobbying as its primary activity without jeopardizing its exempt status,” the IRS rules state.
There has been much public consternation that DeMont will use some of the inaugural fund donations for political activities. This is permissible under IRS rules provided engaging in politics is not the “primary activity” of 501(c)(4).
The only other stated restriction under IRS Code is that the political activity cannot involve “direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”
The code makes no mention of restrictions to referendum or initiative measures that might come before voters.
Therefore, it is possible that donors to the Hobbs’ inauguration could end up seeing DeMont use their money against own their political interests.
Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.
Newly re-elected State Senator Ken Bennett criticized Maricopa County’s handling of this election as one full of missteps and gaffes. In a Thursday interview with “The Conservative Circus,” Bennett called Maricopa County’s handling of this election “disheartening.”
Bennett promised to introduce legislation that would ensure elections could be more “transparent, trackable, and publicly verified.” This election marks Bennett’s return to the state legislature, having served for nearly a decade from 1999 to 2007.
“Especially with the focus and scrutiny that’s been on our entire state and on Maricopa County for the last two years, this was the election that we had to begin reinstalling confidence that we know what we’re doing in elections,” said Bennett.
According to Bennett’s platform, the newly re-elected state senator promises to see through legislation requiring counties to publish their list of registered voters by name, address, and precinct before each election, followed by a list of who voted in the election by name, address, and precinct, as well as ballot images and cast vote records.
Bennett’s insight comes from his time as the secretary of state. He oversaw 12 statewide elections, and one recount. In 2010, one of the ballot propositions led by 126 votes and triggered a full statewide recount of two million ballots. Only 12 votes changed. He said that elections should have that level of accuracy.
Bennett further stated that the Election Day fiasco wasn’t caused by the tabulation machines as initially thought — it was the printers. Bennett said that this was good news, since that means the tabulation machines require precision.
“They rejected the ballots because the darkness of the ink printed on there wasn’t even enough,” explained Bennett.
The secretary of state’s office wasn’t to blame, according to Bennett, although he noted that there could be better preventative measures put in place to ensure Tuesday’s issue doesn’t reoccur.
The secretary of state’s office included two main responsibilities, one of which includes ensuring a month before the election that county machines are spot-checked for accuracy. Based on the Election Day fiasco, Bennett suggested that the on-demand printers receive more scrutiny during the spot-checking process.
Bennett served as the liaison to the State Senate’s controversial Cyber Ninjas-led audit of the 2020 election. His time in the role was fraught with issues that would prompt him to step down and later continue to haunt the Cyber Ninjas.
During this election, Time sought out Bennett and a fellow former secretary of state, Democrat Richard Mahoney, to obtain their perspective on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs’ oversight of her race. Both Bennett and Mahoney suggested that Hobbs recuse herself.
Earlier this week, Sam Stone accused City of Phoenix officials of letting the vagrancy and homeless problem get out of control. And the former chief of staff for Councilman Sal DiCiccio suggested a drastic change is needed in how the community addresses the issue.
During an interview Monday with KFYI’s James T. Harris, Stone said Phoenix is “headed down the same path” as Seattle, Portland, and large cities in California, in part because officials here are following the same failed policies. “And when you do the same thing you’re going to get the same results,” he said.
The topic of homelessness came up after Harris recently took an informal tour of a massive downtown homeless camp. He later posted a video of what he witnessed along a several block area of downtown.
Harris told listeners Monday he was shocked by what he saw, and that it appears the homeless crisis will get worse without some major change.
“Unless you’ve been to downtown Phoenix lately you might not be aware of the growing homeless population in the Valley,” Harris said during his show. “There are so many of them…so many people – if you wanted to help them where would you put them?” he asked Stone.
The issue of homelessness is complex, Stone told Harris, and there are many unseen homeless people who are “sofa surfing” with friends and family or who live in their vehicle. Many of those are utilizing social services and other support networks to address their situation.
But Stone’s comments during the interview focused on a large percentage of Phoenix’s homeless population made up of citizens who cannot -or will not- take advantage of social services due to mental health issues or an addiction. As a result, they live on the streets, sometimes in makeshift homeless camps on large vacant lots but often on public parks and sideways, even residential alleys and private property.
The city, according to Stone, is failing to do anything about the problem of chronic street homelessness.
“What we’re doing – the same approach that has been done across the country – is enabling chronic street homelessness instead of treating it,” Stone said to Harris. “We’re making it easier and easier to live on the streets.”
Part of the problem, Stone said, is that an entrenched industry has built up around street homelessness, resulting in advocate who no longer push services as the number one priority. To change how chronic street homelessness is addressed would require an investment by the city, Stone acknowledged, including a temporary large facility -perhaps a tent city- and many more shelters than are available now.
“You’ve got to make it services first, you’ve got to push people, you’ve got to do some tough love,” Stone said. “People don’t want to talk about this but you’ve got to make it harder to live on the street than it is to go to treatment, period.”
Stone also contends liberals don’t see chronic homelessness as a problem and that advocates consider forcing homeless persons into a decision of whether “they want to pack up and move on” or get into treatment to be a negative.
“And it’s true, that’s a tough thing to say, but all of these policies they have from coast to coast are the same,” he explained. “Where we’ve seen success with this is in other countries where they say pure and simple ‘no you can’t live here on the street’ – we have a place for you and we’re going to give you treatment when you’re there.”
Stone added that the person is not given an option about the treatment “because someone who is drug addicted or has a mental health issue is not in a frame of mind to be able to make good decisions for themselves, period. So you make the decision for them.”
As to concerns about the rights of homeless persons suffering with addiction or mental health issues, Stone noted in many instances those same people would be declared by a court as incompetent to handle major financial decisions. In such situations, a judge would appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the person’s best interests.
But when it comes to leaving those same people to fend for themselves on the streets, Stone said homeless advocates often argue, ‘oh they’re qualified and mentally competent to say that they should remain on the street’ and not get treatment.
“It is absolutely wrong to me, it is immoral and inhumane, and it is total misplaced compassion from the Left,” he added.
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a plan to attract the film industry to Arizona. SB1708, introduced by State Senator David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista), would offer a tax rebate to movie studios, called “Credit for Motion Picture Production Costs,” or “Tax Credits,” under an “Arizona Motion Picture Production Program.” The committee passed the bill overwhelmingly, 9-1; only State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) opposed the bill.
The bill reads like a promotional deal for a store: if a company spends up to $10 million, then they get 15 percent in tax credits. If they spend between $10 and $35 million, then they get $17.5 percent. And if they spend over $35 million, then they get 20 percent. Companies could get more: an additional 2.5 percent for total production labor costs associated with Arizonan employees, an additional 2.5 percent of total qualified production costs associated with filming at a qualified production facility in Arizona or primarily on location, and an additional 2.5 percent of total qualified production costs if they filmed in association with a long-term tenant of a qualified production facility.
A day after the committee’s decision, Arizona Free Enterprise Club Vice President Aimee Yentes told “The Conservative Circus” that the credits would be lining the pockets of “woke Hollywood elites” making movies that oppose American traditions and values.
“It outtakes $150 million a year of tax credits for production companies and producers, that’s a really, I would call, generous tax credit program. Usually these move through the system and you’ll see them for, I don’t know, $7 million here, $12 million here, but $150 million a year going to woke Hollywood elites who are going to produce anti-American movies and documentaries like Michael Moore’s,” said Yentes. “So if that sounds like a good use of your taxpayer money, I shudder to think.”
Yentes explained further that the bill gifted movie companies with a “sweetheart deal” through refundable tax credits, which zero out liability after the threshold is met. If there are excess tax credits that haven’t been used, the government will pay the difference to the companies — a perk not afforded to small Arizonan business owners.
“That’s [a deal] a lot of other businesses would love but they can’t afford while down there to cut their own deals,” said Yentes.
According to Yentes, the deals wouldn’t stop there. She said that movie companies’ promises to film in Arizona over this legislation were mere sweet nothings; she insisted that those executives would go back on their word as soon as another state offered a better deal.
“It is an absolute race to the bottom,” said Yentes. “We will wind up bidding against ourselves — and lose.”
Arizona has a history with Hollywood that goes beyond the filming of the many Westerns that ruled the 20th century entertainment industry. The following movies filmed in various parts of Arizona: the original “War of the Worlds,” the original and reboot “Planet of the Apes,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the original “Karate Kid,” “Revenge of the Nerds,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Wayne’s World,” “Forrest Gump,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Star Trek: First Contact,” “Star Trek Generations,” “Transformers,” “Transformers: The Last Knight,” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”
More recently, Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” was filmed in Chinle.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrolling in Cochise County suffered several cuts after being assaulted trying to take an undocumented immigrant into custody Wednesday morning, leading to at least one shot being fired from a USBP-issued gun, Arizona Daily Independent has learned.
It remains unclear whether the gun was fired by the injured agent, another agent, or the “combative subject” as John B. Mennell, a CBP spokesman called the person the agent was trying to apprehend.
“Neither the subject nor the agent was seriously injured during the assault,” Mennell wrote in a statement Thursday. “The case remains under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation who will provide additional details as appropriate.”
Very little is known about the assault which sent nearly two dozen law enforcement and public safety vehicles to the Coronado National Monument south of State Route 92 around 5 a.m. when USBP agents encountered a small group of people suspected of illegally entering the United States.
The agent’s injuries reportedly involved cuts or stabs on the hands and face, and were not life-threatening, according to Carol Capas, spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office. The agent was taken from the scene for emergency medical care; no statement has been issued by CBP, USBP, or the FBI as to the agent’s condition.
About 24 hours after the attack, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels took to the airways to bitterly criticize the Biden Administration and the leadership of Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the unsafe conditions for residents of his county and the heightened dangers to law enforcement personnel.
Dannels told KFYI radio host James T. Harris that the attack on the USBP agent was just the latest incident of escalating violence. There was recently an assault on another USBP agent, as well as a local officer, and one of Dannels’ own deputies, he told Harris.
“It’s not getting better. In fact, just the opposite and we’ve been talking on this, preaching on this, for the last year,” Dannels said. “I’ll just say this – the failed leadership by this president and this administration to recognize, secure our border, secure our communities, and secure our country is devasting to us right now.”
The agent was attacked near Montezuma Canyon, which lies a few miles west of the USBP Brian A. Terry Station in Naco. Agents assigned to that station are among the 3,800 employees of the USBP’s Tucson Sector.
It would not be until 5 p.m. that FBI spokeswoman Brooke Brennan issued a short statement confirming the agency was conducting the investigation. At 6:30 p.m., Brennan issued a one-sentence supplement advising local residents there was no threat to the public.
However, several first responders familiar with the incident have told Arizona Daily Independent the “all-clear” notice could have been provided hours earlier. This would have relieved the worries of several local residents and tourists in the area.
Even USBP Tucson Sector Chief John Modlin ignored the assault on his agent. Modlin was active on social media throughout Wednesday but never bothered to address the morning incident. But he did have time to share a video of a May 2021 rescue of a migrant in California.
CBP recently acknowledged more than 1.7 million people were “encountered” or arrested at the U.S. southwest border in 2021. That figure does not include whistleblowers’ accounts among USBP agents as well as public comments from officials like Dannels of several thousands of migrants who escape arrest.
While USBP agents were dealing with the attack in southern Cochise County, agents with the USBP Yuma Sector were meeting with Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In his radio comments Thursday, Dannels told Harris that the Western States Sheriffs’ Association has taken a position of “no confidence” in Mayorkas.
The association, which represents the 17 contiguous states west of the Mississippi River, issued a declaration in November calling on President Joe Biden to replace Mayorkas with someone “who will work with our federal enforcement partners and the administration to restore security and safety on our nation’s southern border.”