Longform

End of a Smear

Page 3 of 8

To begin with, there was a dispute as to whether the money in the Event Fund is, in legal terms, public or private. This distinction is critical. Private funds are not subject to the strict regulations that govern money considered public.

Reasonable people disagree on the legal status of the Event Fund.
The auditor general and the county attorney maintained the money in the fund is public.

The previous attorney general, Bob Corbin, who operated a similar fund without accusations of wrongdoing, and the current state treasurer, Tony West, sided with Carey, who contended the fund is private.

Until a court takes up the issue, there is no way to say definitively whether the fund is public or private.

But assume Romley is correct.
You have, at the most, $24,000 misused during four years in an office that handles more than $50 million annually.

How did this petty amount of money become such a scandal?
If you actually read the auditor general's report on the Attorney General's Office, you find that this agency, carrying out orders from the state Legislature, never reacted as if it had stumbled upon Robert Vesco operating from Rob Carey's desk.

For example, the auditor general cited as a concern $3,800 the Event Fund reimbursed Carey for money he had used on office events. There is no dispute that the man wrote out checks to two restaurants, one of which he co-owned, for the catering of office functions.

The auditor general, quite properly, insists that in the future there ought to be better documentation of such expenses.

No one argues with that, not even Carey.
The entire tone of the auditor general's report is restrained and insightful.

The books of the Event Fund were a disaster; in fact, there were no books, merely check ledgers that were not maintained properly by the secretaries to whom Carey delegated the task.

The mess is Carey's fault. There is no blame to share. The ledgers should have been in the hands of his financial staff.

All of the clerical screw-ups were complicated by another problem: Woods and Carey are wise guys.

Press reports on the Event Fund "scandal" were salted with indignation; event funds were used to rent volleyball nets for office retreats or to purchase sweat shirts, instead of hair shirts, for government employees.

State workers were awarded recognition plaques and ate from a Mexican-food buffet at the office holiday party, instead of consuming peanut butter on slabs of white bread.

The resentment of donations spent on state employees might have been diffused if Carey had told contributors to the Event Fund that he specifically envisioned underwriting activities designed to boost office morale.

That possibility is not mentioned in a single letter to donors.
Asked about this omission, Carey was at least frank.
"When you do fund raising, you don't lead with your least-interesting activity," said Carey.

So Carey made a broad appeal for funds, which was understandable, perhaps, but too slick by half for government work.

The slickness extended beyond the fund-raising appeals.
On several occasions, Carey footed the bill, and has the canceled checks to show for it, to provide staff luncheons, awards banquets and holiday parties.

It was a decent thing to do and recognized the people who work in the trenches at the Attorney General's Office.

Carey dropped thousands in this manner.
But he was too busy to bother with the state's cumbersome paperwork and seek reimbursement through ordinary accounting channels. He didn't even insist on backup receipts from the support staffers who organized the events.

Instead, as compensation for his spending, he took four airline tickets from a $5,000 voucher account that had been contributed by America West Airlines. The total used by Carey--$1,200 in air vouchers--is thousands below what he contributed out of his own pocket to improve office morale, but the accounting for this wasn't done according to Hoyle.

And Carey should have known better.
For Woods' part, the attorney general used the airline vouchers to have his wife accompany him to a conference in New York.

While a reasonable person might find it a refreshing change to see one of Arizona's public officials bringing his wife on a trip instead of his mistress, the auditor general took a dim view of this expenditure.

Returning from another conference, Woods laid over in Chicago and watched the Bulls play the Suns. The pit stop cost another $500 out of the America West account.

Vince Lombardi might have understood, but he would not have forgiven such childish behavior, and neither did the auditor general.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey