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.

K-12 Curriculum Transparency For Arizona Parents Fails in House

K-12 Curriculum Transparency For Arizona Parents Fails in House

By Corinne Murdock |

SB1211, which would require schools to publish curriculum lists on their websites, failed in the House 28-30 on Monday. 

The votes weren’t panning out in the way Republicans hoped, so several legislators voted to kill the bill in order to salvage it for later discussions. State Representatives Joel John (R-Buckeye), Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), and Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix) voted with Democrats to kill the bill. Kaiser explained during the floor vote that he and Wilmeth did so in order to keep it active and open for discussion. 

John, however, argued as a former teacher that the bill was too much of a burden for educators. He characterized the transparency bill as an “unfunded mandate” foisted on those in a “low-paying, thankless job.” John issued the false claim that he was only one of two other educators in the House. Other past and present educators include State Representatives Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek), Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix), Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), and Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler).

“The laws are quite robust already. I think this bill frankly goes too far and puts too many extra burdens [on teachers], as some of our colleagues have already pointed out,” said John. 

Kaiser responded that the laws clearly don’t go far enough because K-12 schools are rampant with transparency issues. 

“The reason we need to have a bill about this is because there’s problems happening in schools across Arizona,” said Kaiser. “If you don’t think this is a problem, look at the board [of votes]. This is a direct reflection of what’s happening to parents in schools. ‘There’s not a problem,’ they say. ‘Go home,’ they say. ‘We gave you a thumbnail sketch of what we’re talking about, go home.’ I’m so disappointed in how these votes are turning out.”

Apart from John, teacher perspectives on the bill differed along party lines. 

Udall, a current teacher, supported the bill. She suggested that additional funding should be established to help ease the additional burdens of the bill. Udall noted the importance of proactive forms of transparency, rather than retroactive.

Conversely, Pawlik, also a teacher, asserted that educators shouldn’t have to be concerned about posting last-minute tweaks to curriculum or learning materials. Pawlik argued that it would not only inhibit teachers’ flexibility, but ultimately stunt students’ education. 

The Senate passed the bill along party lines last month. Left-wing activist organizations celebrated the bill’s rejection.

SB1211 would enable parents access to all curriculum, learning materials, and teacher training at their school, organized by subject, grade, and teacher. Democratic legislators argued that parents should switch schools if they weren’t happy with the transparency at their current schools. They contended further that the legislation would create more red tape and punishment for educators. One legislator went so far as to argue that the bill constituted an effort to control speech. 

If the Republican representatives hold to their promise, SB1211 may be resurrected this session in one form or another. As of press time, no exact solution was made apparent.

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

Parental Rights to Children’s Records Passes Arizona Senate

Parental Rights to Children’s Records Passes Arizona Senate

By Corinne Murdock |

On Monday, the Arizona Senate passed HB2161, a bill prohibiting state employees, political subdivisions, governmental entities, or any other institution from withholding a minor’s records from parents. Parents may sue any entity or institution that withholds their child’s records in violation of the legislation. It’s likely that HB2161 will most heavily impact school districts.

The bill passed along party lines. State Representative Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), the bill sponsor, explained that the legislation would ensure recourse for parents whose rights had been violated.

The bill was transmitted to the State House for review of the amendments made in the Senate. If approved, the version passed on Monday will head to Governor Doug Ducey for his signature.

Democrats’ opposition to the bill focused on the impact on educators. One of the main arguments concerned the fact that educators wouldn’t be able to withhold the sexuality or gender identity of LGBTQ+ minors from their parents. 

Those arguments echo incidents making headlines nationally, in which parents discover that educators or school counselors coached their children into adopting a deviant sexuality or gender identity. Just this past week, it was discovered that a Massachusetts public middle school promoted the gender transitions of a pair of siblings without their parents’ knowledge.

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

Trans School Board Member Argued Against Parents’ Rights at Arizona Legislature

Trans School Board Member Argued Against Parents’ Rights at Arizona Legislature

By Corinne Murdock |

A transgender woman testifed to the Arizona House Education Committee that he opposed a bill to expand parental rights, HB2161. The Arizona Daily Independent identified the individual as Liberty Elementary School District Governing Board Member Paul Bixler. The bill that Bixler opposed would prohibit government employees from withholding information from parents concerning their children, or interfering in any capacity unless there’s a compelling interest. The bill also included provisions specific to schools, such as prohibiting school districts or their employees from withholding information from parents related to purported gender identity or requested gender transitions. It also required schools to obtain written informed consent from parents prior to administering any survey soliciting personal information, as well as share a copy of the survey in question seven days prior to administering it. Violations of the bill could result in disciplinary action to the offending employee, a $500 fine for school districts, and lawsuits against the governmental entity or official from the parents.

During Monday’s House Education Committee hearing, Bixler asserted that the legislation would cause harm to befall teens: drug use, depression, dropping out of school, homelessness, depression, and even suicide. Bixler contended that the protections for parents already exist in legislation and no additional ones are necessary.

Bixler also recalled his personal experience with attempting to transition his gender, referencing the difficulty of it. He insinuated that the legislators were handling the topic of transgenderism lightly by approving the bill. Bixler asserted that the bill would put health care practitioners at “personal physical risk” while eliminating much-needed help for children. 

“When you threaten a child’s disclosure with exposure, those children will continue to question but will not seek the highly qualified individuals that could assist them. Threatening dedicated, trained caregivers with litigation also threatens the welfare of the children within that same population,” stated Bixler. “By pursuing this legislation, you risk the life that already is fragile of these children. If you pursue this, expect a rise of teen and pretend drug use, drop-out[s], depression, homelessness, and suicide. How do we know this? We know this because we see it over and over and over again. When you marginalize this student population and force them to go into hiding, they won’t stop questioning. They simply will not receive the help that they need. But I believe there’s a bigger question here. This is not only personal proposed legislation targeted on a specific membership within Arizona’s community. It does not appear coincidental that so much proposed legislation is focused on transgender members of Arizona. I have one question for you: what are you afraid of?”

Bixler was elected to his school district in 2020, and will serve until 2024. According to his governing board member profile, Bixler would describe his educational philosophy as “free appropriate education.”

“Sound familiar? I hope so. The words free and appropriate are a promise. A promise rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment and guaranteed in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. All this promise asks is to attend. I believe that this is every child’s constitutional, more importantly, human right. I believe in public education,” stated Bixler. “I am a fiscal realist. This belief is honed from more than 30 years of public school experience. As a 20-year public school administrator, I have served as both member and leader of teams that made tough implementation decisions. I would now like to work cooperatively to make tough policy decisions.”

On another profile, this time with Arizona List, a pro-choice Democratic women’s commitee, Bixler revealed that he spent four years in the Navy and Marine Corps after two years at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in the late 1960s. After that, Bixler received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University (ASU), then spent over 30 years in public schools as a teacher, guidance counselor, coach, and administrator. Bixler revealed that he’s married to a woman.

According to Arizona List, Bixler qualified as the first transgender woman to be elected in Arizona. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona (PPAA) endorsed Bixler in his campaign.

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

State Legislator Opposed to Parental Rights Bill: Parents to Blame, Not Schools

State Legislator Opposed to Parental Rights Bill: Parents to Blame, Not Schools

By Corinne Murdock |

In response to the House Education Committee hearing on a bill to enhance parental rights, State Representative Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson) implied that the fault lied with parents, not with the schools. He said that the legislature should maintain a limited government approach and not create more burdens for schools.

“We [should] encourage parents to be more involved in their children’s education,” said Hernandez. “The vast majority of parents aren’t as engaged as they should be.”

The bill in question, HB2161, was introduced by State Representative Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix). It would prohibit any employee of the state or its political subdivisions, entities, or institutions from: withholding information from parents related to their child’s physical, emotional, or mental health; interfering in parents’ control over their child’s upbringing, education, health care, and mental health; denying or inhibiting parents’ rights to access any of their child’s written or electronic medical records, attendance scores, test scores, grades, extracurricular activities, club participation, disciplinary or psychological records, admission applications, health and immunization information, teacher and counselor evaluations and behavioral pattern reports, email accounts, and online or virtual accounts and data. Government entities or officials may only invoke control over a child’s upbringing, education, health care, and mental health if there’s a compelling government interest demonstrated. 

The bill also included provisions specific to schools, such as prohibiting school districts or their employees from withholding information from parents related to purported gender identity or requested gender transitions. It also required schools to obtain written informed consent from parents prior to administering any survey soliciting personal information, as well as share a copy of the survey in question seven days prior to administering it. 

Violations of the bill could result in disciplinary action to the offending employee, a $500 fine for school districts, and lawsuits against the governmental entity or official from the parents.

The bill passed the House Education Committee by a bare majority, 6-5. 

State Representatives Walt Blackman (R-Snowflake), Lupe Diaz (R-Hereford), John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction), Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott), Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), and Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria) voted for the bill. Those who voted against the bill were State Representatives Daniel Hernandez Jr. (D-Tucson), Joel John (R-Arlington), Judy Schweibert (D-Phoenix), Myron Tsosie (D-Chinle), and Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler).

During conversations of the bill, several school-related issues reported by AZ Free News were brought up: the encouragement of students to identify their given names as deadnames and instead identify by their preferred names on identification, the formation of K-12 LGBTQ clubs through an organization called GLSEN whose content focuses on the sexualization of children, the pornographic and explicit book assigned even after promised revocation at Horizon High School, and surveys that encourage students to disclose private information about their home life.

Kaiser said he would “absolutely” consider increasing the penalty to schools from $500, which Fillmore said might be too low because that amount was paltry for school districts. 

Schwiebert expressed concern that forced exposure of private, more emotional conversations between a teacher and student would result in hardships for the student. Kaiser asserted that it wasn’t the teacher’s role to serve as a support system. He said he hoped he’d get a call from a teacher if his child was struggling with something, and would be horrified if they didn’t because it’s not their job.

“Their job is to teach my son reading, writing and math, their job is not to console my son. Their job is to let me know,” said Kaiser.

John then asked if there was any time where a student could tell a teacher something in confidence that wouldn’t be shared with parents, exempting information involving something illegal. Kaiser said no.

In response, Udall shared that she had several teenage students in the past approach her about their underage pregnancies. Kaiser said that he didn’t have an answer for that specific situation; Udall advised that Kaiser should consider situations which would allow teachers to leave it to the children to tell their parents.

Fillmore chimed in to ask Udall if there wasn’t a duty to report teenage pregnancies; Udall didn’t have an exact answer, saying that she believed that only incidents related to abuse were those teachers were required to report.

Community members who spoke in opposition of the bill said that it violated the rights of youth, mainly an alleged right to privacy. One example came from ACLU of Arizona spokesman Jeff Esposito who said that the bill was unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst. Nguyen retorted that Esposito and his ilk were driving a wedge between parents and their children by allowing educators to decide what information parents may know.

“You’re, in a way, making a decision for me [as a parent],” said Nguyen. 

Fillmore then asked Esposito if his only contention with the bill was the outing of a child’s sexuality. Esposito said no, but then repeated that sexuality and its impact on mental health were of paramount concern.

“What I’m saying is a student may make a choice to reveal private information to a trusted adult and then that trusted adult may make that choice to reveal that information to parents,” said Esposito. “But to jump that line and make that information known to parents before the student is ready […] sometimes those students need a trusted adult to go to and their rights to privacy should be respected.”

Fillmore challenged the notion that children had authority to do what they’d like that suits them best without parental knowledge or oversight. 

In closing remarks, Blackman said that schools have no right to subvert parents’ wills or act as a parent would in certain situations. He criticized the implication that preventing government employees from serving as middlemen between parents and children would result in children facing hardships such as homelessness and drug addiction.

“When she’s going to bed at night, she’s going to my house. Not at the counselors’ house and not at the teachers house,” asserted Blackman. “Schools are trying to get in the middle where the parents should be to comfort that child, to teach that child. And all I hear is, ‘the parent has no rights.’ If the parent has no rights for those medical records, is the school going to pay that medical bill? You’re not going to do that. As a parent I have a right to know every single thing that’s going on with my child.”

Diaz added that parents are divinely ordained by God to care for their children — not schools. Diaz said he discerned from parent testimonies that a variety of God-given rights were violated by schools, including the First and Fourth Amendments.

“God created the parents to be the responsible entity for the children,” said Diaz. “Our man’s laws should be a reflection of divine law. Every parent is going to stand before God and answer for their children. And I respect you parents who have come  here and have stood for your own parental rights and for your children.”

Watch the hearing here:

https://www.facebook.com/azfreenews/videos/929578277919829

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