Russell Pearce is not going to get a chance to recoup the money he spent on his unsuccessful bid to retain his Senate seat, at least not now.
Efforts to enact legislation to create a method for recalled public officials faltered Thursday when many Republicans refused to go along with a plan by Pearce allies to set the stage for reimbursement. That reticence kills the bill for this session, though it leaves the door open for the new batch of lawmakers being elected in November to reconsider the measure next year.
That group also could include Pearce: The Mesa Republican, ousted in last year’s recall, is seeking to once again become a senator. And the man who defeated him in the recall, Jerry Lewis, is now in a different legislative district.
The balking disappointed Sen. Steve Smith, R-Mesa, one of Pearce’s fiercest allies at the Capitol. But Smith said his support of the plan had nothing to do with Pearce.
He pointed out that the Arizona Constitution requires the Legislature to enact laws “including provision for payment by the public treasury of the reasonable special election campaign expenses” of the recalled official. But the last law on the books detailing how that would happen was repealed in the 1970s.
The measure would have set up a procedure for a recalled official to submit copies of all expenses to the Legislature. Lawmakers themselves would decide how much of the spending fits the definition of “reasonable” and then craft legislation to pay it, subject to approval by the governor.
It clearly had Pearce in mind, with the proposal retroactive until last November.
Smith acknowledged that the measure, at least the way he envisioned it, actually would allow a recalled official to get state tax dollars even if the candidate spent no personal funds on the race. That is the case with Pearce, whose nearly $262,000 in spending came from individual donors and political action committees.
But he said that’s irrelevant. In fact, Smith said if a recalled official were not going to run again — and not going to use the money to replenish a campaign account — he believes the person would be entitled to pocket the money.
“I’m sure that somebody would litigate it through the court,” he said of that issue. Smith said he has to follow the plain language of the Arizona Constitution about paying the expenses.
“And it doesn’t say, ‘Only do this if the person’s going to re-run,’” he said. “So that’s all we’re trying to do is adhere to what the Constitution says.”
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, conceded the Constitution does have the mandate to pay the expenses.
“But now we’re talking about a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money,” he said. “The founders of the state were probably talking about $500.”
Gould and several other Republicans also expressed concern about trying to rush through such a contentious issue on the last day of the legislative session.