At Least 24 Percent of Arizona Legislators Funded By 50 Percent or More PAC, Lobbyist Money

At Least 24 Percent of Arizona Legislators Funded By 50 Percent or More PAC, Lobbyist Money

By Corinne Murdock |

AZ Free News sampled 46 legislators’ latest campaign finance reports of the state legislature and found that 22 of 47 legislators sampled received 50 percent or more of their campaign contributions from either lobbyists or PACs. 

PACs and lobbyists have significant footing in the legislature. That would explain why the first week of January is known as “hell week” within the legislature — not because they’re in preparation for the new session kicking off, but because lobbyists are scrambling to fundraise for legislators. Arizona law prohibits legislators from receiving lobbyist campaign contributions while in regular session. 

The following are state legislators that receive 50 percent or more of their campaign funds from PACs and lobbyists combined: 

In the House, Richard Andrade (D-Glendale), about 51 percent; Ben Toma (R-Peoria), about 56 percent; Lorenzo Sierra (D-Avondale), about 62 percent; Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), about 64 percent; John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), about 64 percent; Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa), about 64 percent; Diego Espinoza (D-Tolleson), about 66 percent; Joanne Osborne (R-Goodyear), about 74 percent; David Cook (R-Globe), about 75 percent; Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix), about 79 percent; John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction), about 83 percent; Tim Dunn (R-Yuma), about 87 percent; and Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley), about 96 percent. 

In the Senate, Vince Leach (R-Tucson), about 53 percent; T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge), about 56 percent;  David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista), about 71 percent; Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Sahuarita), about 73 percent; Lupe Contreras (D-Avondale), about 75 percent; Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City), about 79 percent;  Tyler Pace (R-Mesa), about 82 percent; Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye), about 90 percent; and David Livingston (R-Peoria), about 91 percent.

Of note, all of Gowan’s 32 contributions came from outside of his district — 28 came from Maricopa County. Additionally, $5,000 of Gowan’s $8,950 non-lobbyist contributions came from Phoenix Coyotes owner Alex Merulo.

Butler received over $10,000 from the Tucson branch of one of the largest labor unions in the country: the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW). Her PAC contributions totaled $13,000, and $150 of her individual contributions were from lobbyists. There were several inactive lobbyist donors among the individual contributions totaling $250. In all, Butler’s total contributions were over $13,700.

Wilmeth’s ten non-lobbyist donors included three inactive lobbyists and one wife of an inactive lobbyist. 

Five legislators sampled reportedly received less than 10 percent of funds from PACs and lobbyists: Morgan Abraham, about 4 percent; Quang Nguyen, about 7 percent; Judy Burges, about 7 percent; Amish Shah, about 7 percent; and Joseph Chaplik, about 8 percent.

There were several legislators sampled that we couldn’t review because their reports haven’t been filed yet — even though they were due well over two months ago.

State Representative Alma Hernandez (D-Tucson) still hasn’t filed her campaign finance report due April 15. Hernandez has been late consistently since her first year in office (2018), accruing $3,500 in fines altogether. Her latest campaign finance report, which she has yet to file, is 76 days late and she owed $1,675 currently — her highest single fine to date. It took Hernandez 69 extra days to file her 2021 cumulative finance report: it was due January 15, but she filed it March 25. 

Just over half of Hernandez’s individual donors from her last report, the cumulative one for 2021, were from out of state and made up the majority of those contributions: $5,980 versus the $3,920 from Arizona. Among them were several prominent figures in the Jewish community including acclaimed author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s son, Elisha Wiesel, as well as Broadway star Jonah Platt.

State Senator Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D-Tucson) did file her report on time — but like Hernandez, over half of the individual contributors on her latest campaign finance report were from out of state. 

It appears that the Hernandez siblings are alike when it comes to campaign finance reports. Since the year his sister took office, Hernandez grew increasingly tardy with filing the reports. For two separate 2020 reports, he accrued over $5,100 in fines. His 2021 cumulative report was filed late by 67 days, and he was fined $1,450 for that. Both the Hernandez siblings are 76 days late on their first quarter report.

Another perennially tardy filer is State Representative César Chávez (D-Maryvale). Like Hernandez, he is 76 dates late and owes $1,675, but for his senate campaign’s first quarter report. Chávez was also late by 58 days to file his senate campaign’s 2021 cumulative report, owing $1,225. 

Similarly to Hernandez, Chávez has a history of late filings, the highest of which were 121 days late to file his 2020 pre-general election filing, 163 days late to file his 2016 pre-general election report, and 953 days late to file his 2016 first report for the fourth quarter and post-general election report.

One interesting campaign finance report came from State Senator Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff). The report totaled nearly 600 pages, with 586 dedicated to individual contributions alone that totaled nearly $360,000. No lobbyists could be discerned among the over 7,000 contributors, and over 1,600 of them were Arizonans. A vast majority were retired, nearly 4,500 of them, bolstered by the self-employed and small business owners.

Only one PAC donated to Rogers: the Save America PAC gave one contribution of $5,000 in January.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Three Republican Legislators Push For Testing Requirements to Access School Choice

Three Republican Legislators Push For Testing Requirements to Access School Choice

By Corinne Murdock |

Certain House Republicans have decided to shift from the defensive to the offensive concerning their opposition to school choice as proposed by the rest of their party. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate and State Representative Michelle Udall (R-Mesa) introduced HB2185, a bill to require annual standardized testing for Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) recipients from grades 3-12. It would also require schools to post an aggregate of the test scores on their website, organized by grade level. The bill would exempt students with disabilities. State Representatives Joel John (R-Buckeye) and Joanne Osborne (R-Goodyear) signed on as cosponsors.

The bill continues the three legislators’ arguments that ESAs needed greater oversight. Udall stated last October that she’s not opposed to school choice outright if it comes with “appropriate accountability measures.” Udall explained that charter schools initially had the same problems that plague certain schools receiving ESAs currently.

“The issue I have with ESAs is the lack of accountability. When I tried speaking to proponents about appropriate accountability, they walked away from the conversation (on multiple occasions),” tweeted Udall. “When we first started charter schools, we had the same problem. The lack of accountability led to subpar education for many. We had to add accountability over the years. Our students can’t afford to repeat that mistake again with private schools that have even less accountability. Children at subpar public schools (D/F letter grades) already have access to ESAs. And when I submitted a proposal with some modest accountability and a restriction that children eligible for the expansion could only use ESAs to attend high achieving schools, they walked away.”

Udall’s latest bill was assigned to the House Education Committee, but hasn’t been given a date for review. 

Last December, there were talks that the Maricopa County Republican Party would censure Udall, John, and Osborne for voting against State Representative Shawnna Bolick’s (R-Phoenix) expansion of the ESA program as part of the summer budget bill. The party passed the resolution to oppose the three legislators in their campaigns — “In Support of Parental Involvement and Choice in Education,” introduced by former State Senate President Russell Pearce — with nine votes in favor, one against, and one abstention. The following is the text of Pearce’s resolution:

“Whereas Republicans, like most Americans, believe that parents, not bureaucrats, should be making decisions for their children’s education; Whereas it is a core conservative belief that the people who matter most in our schools are our students and our teachers, even though liberals believe it is the administrators, diversity training officers, and vaccine mandate supervisors; and

Whereas what remains of the old public school monopoly continues to fight to obstruct efforts to

expand school choice in Arizona, because they are desperate to hang on to as much money and control as they can for as long as possible; and Whereas today’s Democrat Party is targeting parents and has weaponized the Department of Justice to pursue parents who oppose radical curriculum like Critical Race Theory; and Whereas Arizona parents know what is best for their children and deserve as many education options as possible; now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the Maricopa County Republican Party remains 100% committed to expanding

school choice options for students and parents; and further be it Resolved, that the Maricopa County Republican Party encourages parents to rise up, run for school board offices, and make their voices heard, and that the Maricopa County Republican Party will support those efforts whenever possible; and further be it Resolved, that the Maricopa County Republican Party calls attention to, and opposes Republicans who campaign as conservatives while voting against school choice and against the best interests of students and parents – specifically Representatives Joanne Osborne, Michelle Udall, and Joel John.”

The party also opted to pass a resolution to hold Udall accountable for her voting record. 

Udall aligns neatly with her party on other school-related issues: opposition to masking and vaccination mandates, and critical race theory, to name a few. On the topic of school choice, however, Udall disagrees, coming from the perspective of an educator and candidate for the state’s superintendent of education.

Udall has also supported efforts to make public schools more flexible for students’ unique needs.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.