If you're political sleaze maestro Constantin Querard, the Arizona Legislature is practically your own personal Downton Abbey.
Querard's team of taxpayer-funded butlers, bootblacks, and maids is extensive -- at least 20, by his own claim -- in the both the upper and lower chambers.
And on February 21, before the House Reform and Human Services Committee, CQ had five state representatives at his beck and call.
This particular quintet of flunkies included David Gowan, Steve Montenegro, Carl Seel, Steve Smith, and amateur Muppet impersonator Kelly Townsend.
Querard appeared before the committee to pimp a bill near and dear to his heart, one his vassals obediently voted out of committee with a "do pass" recommendation, House Bill 2551.
House Majority Leader Gowan is HB 2551's prime sponsor. Querard ran his campaign last year and made more than $13,000 off the legislator, according to finance reports on the Arizona Secretary of State's website.
(Gowan's not on the RHS committee, but as the bill's sponsor, he spoke on its behalf on February 21.)
RHS committee chair Steve Montenegro ponied up nearly $35,000 for Querard in this last cycle. Well, minus the $848 Querard and his wife, Lisa, donated to Montenegro's campaign.
Vice chair Kelly Townsend paid Querard's consulting firm and printing business more than $24,000 in 2012. Actually, that money came from the Citizens Clean Election Commission, otherwise known as welfare for politicos and their vendors.
Steve Smith was good for $15,643 to Querard's companies, less a $424 contribution from Big Daddy.
Carl Seel bested Smith, forking over more than $20,000 to Querard.
It's good to be lord of the manse. Not only do your minions keep the ducats flowing into your pockets, they'll actually vote for whatever you want, like HB 2551, which reads like a gift to financial pirates, deadbeat dads, scam artists, and assorted other criminals and ne'er-do-wells.
The proposed law would work like this: If a judge or government entity issues a subpoena to examine someone's financial records, the financial institution cannot hand over those documents until 21 days after service.
Meannwhile, a copy of the subpoena has to be sent to the individual, and the individual has 14 days to make a motion to quash the subpoena.
This quashing can be realized for a variety of reasons, all quite subjective: e.g., if the release of the record causes an "unreasonable burden or hardship" or if the government entity is trying to "harass" the individual.
Harassing con men and corporate thieves? Why, that's just plan un-American.
The bill also places restrictions on warrants for financial information to be used in criminal cases, once again giving the suspect a heads up that he or she is a target of an investigation. Though with a warrant, the target would have to be notified within 90 days.
With either a warrant or a subpoena, a financial institution would not be allowed to release a customer's records until the government agency involved "certifies in writing that it has complied with this article."
By which time, any scam artist worth his salt would be taking a sun bath poolside in Puerto Vallarta, sucking back margaritas by the bucketful.
Which explains why the Arizona Attorney General's Office has objected to the bill in the past, as has the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Also, the Arizona Department of Economic Security seems worried that the bill, as is, could hamper DES' ability to chase down money owed by deadbeat dads.
Shamelessly, Querard admitted that his bill will cause various government agencies headaches.
"I have no doubt that if you pass this bill, it will at some level make prosecution a little more difficult," he told the committee.
But this is about Querard and his needs. Screw law enforcement.
See, Querard has been trying to get this bill through a committee for years as a response to a scandal he endured from 2004-2006 when the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, the AG's Office, and attorney Tom Ryan, representing then Maricopa County Republican Chairman Tom Liddy, exposed Querard's shenanigans for all the world to see.
In front of the committee, Querard was fairly open about his reasons for wanting this bill to become law, describing that bygone investigation into his activities as "a fishing trip through my business," one that made "600 pages of my personal life" subject to public-records requests.
Querard portrayed himself as a victim, but the scandal was wholly of his own making. After all, despite his conservative pretensions, Querard is overly fond of milking the public tit in the form of Clean Elections cash, which, like all gub'mint handouts, comes with strings attached.
Naturally, Clean Elections and the AG's Office are obligated to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. And Querard exposed himself to an inquiry when in 2004 he used a mailer that looked like it came from the county GOP in order to obtain thousands of responses for early ballot requests.
Reportedly, Querard sold the data he mined from those returned mailers to his clients. County GOP chair Liddy accused Querard of "money laundering." Querard sued for defamation, opening himself up to further scrutiny.
"I'm the one that subpoenaed [Querard's] records first," Ryan told me when I called for a comment. "I subpoenaed the records as part of the underlying claim when he sued Liddy.
"I said, 'Fine, truth is an absolute defense [to a libel claim]. Let's take a look at [Querard's] bank records.' Then I turned them over to Clean Elections."
Ultimately, Querard lost his defamation suit, big-time, and the local press revealed Querard for what he is, a veritable font of slime.
Or, in other words, a successful political consultant.
Republican legislator and CQ puppet Colette Rosati was revealed to be a major ditz. CQ told her what committee assignments to seek, who to back for speaker, and whether or not she should send out Christmas cards.
Rosati even admitted to giving Querard a blank check once. An AG investigator found that she had sent Querard lump sums of cash without disclosing what the cash was for.
Clean Elections dinged her for $20,000, lowered the fine to $5,000 and finally allowed her to pay $2,500.
Another of CQ's candidates, Representative David Burnell Smith, was forced to resign because of Clean Elections violations.
Despite all this fertile ground to plow, the AG's Office under Terry "Do Nothing" Goddard, produced zero indictments.
During the defamation suit, more CQ shenanigans were uncovered with his nonprofit Arizona Family Project, which paid him a salary and was allegedly used to affect the outcomes of GOP primaries.
"I turned the light on and they scattered like cockroaches," Ryan said of those exposed in the trial. "Know why? Because they're cockroaches."
Concerning Liddy's allegation that Querard had been "utilizing illegal tactics to launder tax-exempt nonprofit money into politics," the judge in the libel case said he believed Liddy's statement to be true and ruled against QC.
No wonder Querard wants HB 2551 passed.
On the committee, Democrat Andrea Dalessandro had the temerity to ask how many of the committee's members were clients of CQ.
Of course, Montenegro didn't like that question and advised Dalessandro to "be careful" with such insinuations. Even if they're accurate.
CQ pointed out his problems with finding the right committee.
"I have 20 clients in this Legislature," Querard replied. "It's impossible for me to find a committee that doesn't have someone I've worked with or against [on it]."
He reminded Dalessandro that he had run campaigns against her in the past, and he issued what sounded like a not-so-veiled threat.
"You've heard the bill," CQ told her. "Do you want to go back to your district and tell them, 'By the way, any state agency can go to your bank, take what they want to, [and] they don't have to tell you about it, and I voted to say that was okay?'"
CQ left out the part about having that little thing called a subpoena or a warrant. Next thing you know, Querard will want to outlaw them altogether.
The political slaves of CQ on the committee wrapped themselves in the flag and the U.S. Constitution. They pointed to a similar federal law and suggested this was all about protecting citizens' Fourth Amendment Rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
Republican legislator Debbie Lesko voted for the bill, too, though she doesn't belong to CQ. Rather GOP consultant Chad Willems and the American Legislative Exchange Council have claims on her.
Still, the mere fact that CQ didn't get Lesko elected allowed her to voice concern over what DES objected to in the bill.
Montenegro, Gowan, Townsend, Seel, and Smith are willing pawns, and they get something for their service to CQ.
They have their seats in the legislature, free lunches on the House lawn from special interest groups, and lobbyists galore kissing their fannies.
This, friends, is our representative democracy? Don't bemoan its workings. After all, you must admit it represents CQ pretty darn well.
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