Russell Pearce’s Blank Check?

| April 27 2012

The Russell Pearce recall reimbursement budget debate at the state capitol is sounding more and more like a Jerry Lewis telethon lately.

For someone who claims adherence to the principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility, asking for taxpayers to foot the bill for your election loss seems highly suspect. Even after Pearce’s loss to Republican Jerry Lewis, there was speculation that Pearce would seek to use an obscure clause in the Arizona Constitution that would allow Pearce the ability to be reimbursed for the cost of his recall campaign.

The provision in question is Article 8, Part 1, Section 6 of the Arizona constitution that reads “laws necessary to facilitate the operation of the provisions of this article shall be enacted, including provision for payment by the public treasury of the reasonable special election campaign expenses of such officer.”

Now, actual legal experts suggest that one, Pearce’s interpretation of this clause is uncertain and two, the question brings the state into unknown legal territory.

A law was enacted in 1913 calling for a series of reimbursements in recall elections, capping payments to recalled state legislators and county officials at $200, statewide officials at $500 and local government officials at $150.

According to a 1988 opinion from the Arizona attorney general, the 1913 law was repealed in 1973 and not replaced. The opinion, authored by former state Attorney General Bob Corbin, was written after former Gov. Evan Mecham (R) sought $800,000 in reimbursement from the state for expenses related to a recall against him and his impeachment.

Paul Eckstein, a Phoenix attorney who is writing a book on the Arizona constitution, said that it is possible Pearce could seek some money from the state based on the Corbin opinion, but it would likely not be for the entire $159,587 that his campaign spent. According to state records, Pearce raised $230,282 for his recall campaign.

“I think Pearce has a good argument for some recall expenses, but they would be for personal expenses,” Eckstein said. “They would not be from his campaign committee.”

Eckstein said the only way Pearce could be reimbursed would be for the state to enact a law covering his request. He said that the constitutional language paves the way for a law to be passed, given that no law is currently on the books addressing the issue. He said that during the Mecham question, the legislature needed to pass a special law covering his expenses. Eckstein said that while another part of the state constitution prohibits laws benefiting one person with state funds, the recall language would allow this type of law to be passed in Pearce’s case.

Regardless of whether Pearce’s cronies succeed in using this obscure clause to seek reimbursement, it is highly ironic for Pearce to stand by idly while his supporters ask Arizona taxpayers to write him a check for an election that he lost by 12 points and likely profited from.

Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) makes an accurate observation is his statement that:

“It would be the height of irony for Russell Pearce, the champion of small government to come back to the legislature to ask for money,” said Campbell.

Sadly, Campbell, a Democrat, is right. If Pearce succeeds he could receive a check from Arizona taxpayers in excess of $250,000.

Pearce received his recall money from his supporters but he lost. It would be highly inappropriate for Arizona taxpayers to fund Pearce’s new election, which according to the Arizona Capitol Times, is currently being championed by high-profile Republicans.

Of the $260,000 Pearce raised in his recall election, more than 88% of the money came from contributors outside of the City of Mesa.  It should also be noted that Pearce did not spend any of his own money in the recall election.

Mesa Republican Rich Crandall points out:

“If it came out of Russell’s personal pocket – you know, he and his wife took out a second mortgage (or) something like that – then the conversation is open. But a refund of campaign contributions from groups across the country, from lobbyists and things like that? Absolutely not.”

Republican Steve Montenegro is currently circulating a letter among his colleagues asking for the legislature to write Pearce a blank check for his recall loss.  It should also be noted that Montenegro and Rep. Steve Smith, both strong advocates of reimbursing Russell Pearce, are also clients of consultant Constantine Querard.  Querard was previously implicated in the Olivia Cortes scandal  and is currently running Russell Pearce’s campaign.

Lawmakers are expected to debate the provision next week during budget negotiations.  The legislature could sine die as soon as next Wednesday.

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