Brewer calls for clearer rules on freebies for lawmakers - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Brewer calls for clearer rules on freebies for lawmakers

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Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 12:13 pm | Updated: 4:27 pm, Tue Jun 28, 2011.

Gov. Jan Brewer wants the state's financial disclosure laws revamped -- as long as they don't keep public officials from taking gifts and free trips.

"We need to go in and we need to address the issue and determine exactly what's going to serve everybody, the public and the elected officials and the business community, to make it easier to follow,'' the governor said Tuesday. Brewer better laws will guarantee "full disclosure'' of what lawmakers and others are taking, and from whom.

But Brewer said it would be wrong to make it illegal to take things.

"You might not believe this, but there are people in the community that like to give elected officials flowers or tokens of appreciation,'' she said. A ban, the governor said, would require these items to be returned.

"Most of us are raised with the idea of being gracious and saying 'Thank you' for that type of sentiment,'' Brewer said.

The governor said, though, her views on freebies do not stop at incidentals. Brewer said she also would not ban out-of-town travel to conferences in sometimes exotic locations paid for by special interests.

"Many elected officials travel because of the fact that they believe that they are doing it on behalf of the state of Arizona,'' Brewer said.

"They're making contacts, they're bringing sometimes businesses back,'' the governor continued. "They go to events because they're participating in that to raise the elevation of the state of Arizona.''

For example, the American Legislative Exchange Council, financed largely by business interests, provides "scholarships'' for lawmakers to attend its annual conference to hear ideas about legislation the group's members would like approved in each state.

Brewer said such paid-for trips are appropriate.

"I know that when you sit out and you look at it, it looks like everybody is just out there getting things for nothing,'' Brewer said. "But it's work, it is work, for all of those elected officials that participate.''

The governor brushed aside a question of why travel on behalf of the state is being paid for by special interests.

"A lot of time (that happens) because the state can't afford to pay for it,'' Brewer said. "We simply have never had that kind of money to travel.''

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, agreed.

"We're broke,'' he said. "I think it's more appropriate we have the private sector help fund a lot of these events.''

Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he has no problem with outside interests paying for trips "if they benefit the state of Arizona.''

"You have to always decide, each one, whether there's a value to the citizens of this state,'' he said. "That's why disclosure is important, more than worrying about the trip.''

Tobin specifically defended trips to ALEC conferences, paid for by the group's business members, saying these should be considered state business, though he said who picked up the tab should be publicly disclosed.

But Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee, said there is no reason for such trips. He pointed out that state agencies have curtailed travel by public employees to seminars and conferences.

"They can get that information on a webinar,'' he said.

And Gould, who is leading the Senate inquiry into what colleagues got in travel and tickets from the Fiesta Bowl -- and what they did and did not report -- was particularly critical of ALEC picking up the tab for legislators to attend their conferences.

"ALEC is essentially funded by lobbyists,'' he said.

"If legislators want to go to those things they should pay for them out of their own pockets or pay for them with campaign donations,'' Gould said, noting that the amount of money anyone can contribute to a candidate's race is limited by law.

"When you think about it, when an individual can only give me $410 (for a campaign), why should a lobbyist be able to take me on a trip for $20,000?'' he asked.

Tobin, however, said some travel should be allowed, no matter who is picking up the tab. As an example, he cited a 2009 trip he took to a football game in Dallas on the Fiesta Bowl's dime.

"I didn't think it was a gift,'' he said.

"You're trying to do your job,'' Tobin continued. "Could you imagine if the Fiesta Bowl said, 'You know, Andy, we're a little nervous we might lose the Bowl Championship Series because Texas built this facility and, oh, by the way, we've got a chance to see the Big 12 and it would be helpful if we had legislators to be a part of that to show them that we're all united,' and I told them 'no'?''

The Fiesta Bowl's spending on tickets and travel for lawmakers came to light following an audit of the organization.

Some state and federal lawmakers also were the beneficiaries of illegal campaign contributions ostensibly made by individual Fiesta Bowl employees but actually reimbursed by the organization.

Brewer, who was a legislator, county supervisor and secretary of state before becoming governor two years ago, suggested she understands why some public officials may have accepted tickets or did not report travel expenses.

"We are living under much more difficult rules and regulations to follow,'' Brewer said. "And most elected officials don't have a lawyer to consult with every time they do something.''

Pearce, who has amended his own financial disclosure forms, said there are "conflicts'' in existing laws about what needs to be reported.

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