Is Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery the only local politician in the state who spends the public's money promoting himself — or he just the only one honest enough to admit it?
According to a five-year-old state law, local governments are supposed to report what their elected officials spend on non-routine promotions of themselves to the Arizona Department of Administration, where the information can be put on a website for public scrutiny. If the politician spends money on "communications that promote" the official and include the official's name or "physical likeness," it must be reported. Exceptions include communications they're required by an ordinance or other formal edict to put out, or activities needed for their operations.
Montgomery's the only official to have done this since 2013, the state database shows.
There, the public can see how Montgomery spent $25,000 to distribute 5,000 "ComputerCOP" Internet software DVDs and covers, $7,000 on "Handy Helpful Handbooks," and community-relations brochures, plaques and other items that happened to have Montgomery's name plastered on them. All told, expenses for 2013 and 2014 totaled $68,806.73. The money for such material often comes from the assets of suspected criminals that have been seized in civil forfeiture proceedings. Montgomery hasn't submitted his 2015 expenditures yet; he made his 2014 submission to the ADOA in January.
Though Montgomery arguably could be criticized for using the public's money to help spread his name far and wide, it's a standard politician trick. But what's most striking about the ADOA's "Annual Reporting of Public Funding for Public Communication" site is how barren and non-transparent it appears. With just Montgomery reporting these expenses, the site has only two pages of listings.
Lack of data from other elected officials around the state begs the question: Are none of them spending any money on this kind of self-promotion, or are they spending but failing to report the spending?
New Times asked several public officials if they've complied with the law, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2010.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, for one, says she hasn't made any such expenditures.
However, Mark Clark, spokesman for Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, suggested that Babeu's office may have some catching up to do. Clark says a quick review shows the office put Babeu's name on thumb-drives and refrigerator magnets for various reasons, and that officials were considering making a submission to the ADOA based on New Times' call.
Other government agencies, including the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, have not returned phone calls.
Arpaio's office announced in December 2014 that it had unveiled wrapped vans with anti-drug messages. Naturally, Arpaio's name is displayed prominently on the vans. Arpaio hasn't submitted a report to the ADOA about the obviously non-routine expenditure, though it's possible the funds for the project came from private sources.
"I can only speak to our own agency’s actions," says Montgomery's spokesman, Jerry Cobb. The county attorney "strives to ensure that transparency in government is part of our regular criminal justice process."
Cobb downplays the idea of widespread flouting of the law by the state's local government elected officials, arguing at the same time that Montgomery isn't necessarily the only official expending the public's money to promote himself.
"I think, if anything, it shows that we probably have a much broader interpretation of the statutory language than other agencies and that we over-report in the interest of transparency," Cobb says. Other agencies or officials "may interpret the law differently."