Did Ex-Sheriffs Joe Arpaio, Paul Babeu Break Arizona Law? Looks Like They and a Lot of Politicians Did
Ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio failed to obey a law requiring local politicians to report how much taxpayer money they waste to promote themselves. But he has company: Many elected officials still aren't complying with a 5-year-old transparency law.
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office / Facebook
Paul Babeu liked to see his name on pens.
Joe Arpaio put his name and photo on ... just about everything he could.
It wasn't just a waste of money. By not reporting expenses to the state, the two ex-sheriffs broke Arizona law.
In fact, only a few elected officials in Arizona have complied with a 5-year-old law that requires local politicians to report the customized knickknacks they buy to promote themselves.
Under the law, elected city, county, and school-board officials must tell the state Department of Administration (ADOA) when they spend public money on items that contain their names or photographs.
All items "that include the official's name or physical likeness" should be reported, except for routine things like office paperwork.
The law encourages more transparency in government — when it's obeyed.
Yet the law has a couple of significant flaws:
• There is no threat of consequences to elected county, city, and school-board officials who don't obey the law.
• It continues to exempt state officials like the governor and state legislators.
It's probably asking too much to expect members of the Arizona Legislature to make themselves comply.
Still, lawmakers could consider adding teeth to the law so it does what it is supposed to do.
As reported in late 2015, the ADOA posts a prominent link on its home page to its Annual Reporting of Public Funding for Public Communication public database.
As of 2015, only one elected official in the state was in compliance: Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
While commendable, Montgomery's honesty also reveals that he spends tens of thousands on questionable promotional items.
The ADOA's website shows that from 2013 to 2015, for instance, he spent about $77,000 on various knickknacks containing his name or photo.
That included $25,000 for thousands of "Computer Cop" DVDs promoting internet safety — each containing the county attorney's photo and full name — that some computer experts say puts computer users at risk by transmitting a user's keystroke data to third parties without encryption.
No 2016 data has yet been reported. (Montgomery, as the most compliant politician, typically reports his spending for the previous year in March.)
The ADOA's website shows that if politicians can put their name on something legally and get others to pay for it, they will.
Of course, that's why lawmakers wanted elected officials to let the public know when they spend taxpayer money to promote themselves.
Public officials around the state claim they had overlooked the law.
More reporting of expenditures trickled in last year following calls by New Times, including
• Pinal County Attorney Barbara LaWall reported about $41,600 in spending from 2013 to 2015 on things emblazoned with her name.
Items included: volunteer/intern-appreciation giveaways like magnetic clips, frosted pencil pouches, and stylus pens; gun-safety literature; gun-safety coloring books and crayons; water bottles; and flash drives.
• The Pinal County Attorney's Office reported spending about $3,000 in 2013.
Ex-PCAO Lando Voyle put his name on LED keychains, pencils, bracelets, mousepads, lip balms, and lanyards.
Curiously, Voyles reported no such expenditures for 2014 or 2015.
No matter — he was ousted in the August Republican primary by Kent Volkmer.
• The Pinal County Board of Supervisors reported that it spent $900 in 2013 for a photo advertisement.
Arpaio — possibly the worst offender — left the Maricopa County Sheriff's office last month without following the transparency law as his staff claimed he would.
During his 24 years in office, Arpaio put his name or mug on buildings, vehicles, street signs, and computerized forms.
Arguably, he should have reported how much he spent for those things — except, perhaps, for the forms — in the past five years to the ADOA.
In December 2015, former Arpaio spokeswoman said that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office was moving toward compliance after New Times informed the law-enforcement agency about the law.
An official "is in the process of assigning monetary value to each item that names or depicts the sheriff or his image," Allen said back then. "Once done, a final tally of the [estimated] value will be provided" to the ADOA.
Mark Casey, spokesman for newly elected Sheriff Paul Penzone, said that the office never did that.
Newly elected Sheriff Paul Penzone this month began a program to paint over — or, in some cases, tape over — the prominent places and things that display Arpaio's name.
Casey said the office will move forward and report any expenditures on promotional items that Penzone makes.
Penzone doesn't expect he'll have much to report for the ADOA in the coming years, Casey says.
Former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu also spent money on promotional items he didn't report.
Babeu's office said in 2015 that it would have items to report.
Asked about the transparency law this month, Babeu's office released three pages of expense reports.
They show that from 2014 to 2015, Babeu spent about $10,500 on screen cleaners, stickers, and pens with his name on them.
Andrea Kipp, a Pinal records custodian, said that the reports are forwarded each year to the Pinal County Manager's Office, who forwards them to the ADOA.
Megan Rose, spokeswoman for the ADOA, said that all expenditures reported to the state are displayed on the agency's website.
In other words, the agency never received the documents from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
New Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb released a statement last week about how he intends to deal with the transparency law.
"While permissible, the public has come to question these purchases and whether they are actually pseudo-campaign trinkets," he wrote.
Lamb said he'll minimize or eliminate any such items while in office.
"This will also make compliance with reporting associated expenses much easier, as the one line listed on the compliance report to the Arizona Department of Administration will read 'Zero,'" he wrote.
Without intervention by the Legislature, politicians around the state will probably keep getting away with failing to report their "trinkets."
Besides the lack of reporting by local politicians, the law also leaves unclear what is to be reported.
Officials get to decide that for themselves.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, for instances, told New Times that none of its members have made any expenditures that need to be reported.
The Board said each county elected official is responsible for determining whether it needs to comply.
Rose, of the ADOA, said her agency can add nothing further about who should comply, how they should comply, and what should be reported.
"We are declining comment because we can’t interpret that law or enforce compliance," she said.
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