Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Department of Highway Safety, admitted to New Times today that he made contributions to Governor Jan Brewer's campaign under the name of a subordinate employee and his family -- when the money came from Gutier himself.
Gutier characterized the contribution as a "huge mistake" and said he will agree to a settlement with the Clean Elections Commission that includes a $500 fine.
"I told [the employee], 'If you don't have the cash, you can pay me later, and then I forgot," Gutier said. "I'm sorry."
Gutier's admission comes in response to a complaint that the subordinate, Tom Gaupel, filed with the Clean Elections Commission in March. Gaupel, a former Mesa police officer, wrote in his complaint that Gutier solicited $5 contributions from himself and his wife. When Gutier learned that Gaupel's daughter was of voting age, he asked for a donation form from her, too.
But though the trio filled out donation forms, they never actually gave Gutier any money to back them. Gutier told them that was okay, Gaupel alleges, "and that he would take care of it."
Candidates running under the Clean Elections system, such as Governor Brewer, must submit $5 contributions from a large number of citizens to qualify for public funding. It's a way of showing they have sufficient support to merit public funds for their campaign.
For that reason, the Clean Elections Commission takes complaints like Gaupel's seriously. Even if an extra $15 from a political appointee isn't a big deal, it gets to the heart of the "clean" system: Big donors shouldn't be allowed to just write a check and later find names of a lot of small fish to list as donors.
In his complaint, Gaupel alleges that Gutier asked other employees for contributions, and "I would think they also completed [the forms] out of fear for losing their jobs." In letters to the commission, the other employees all denied being pressured or intimidated.
Gutier insisted to New Times that Gaupel's complaint is the work of a disgruntled former employee. (Gaupel resigned just prior to filing his complaint.) He notes that Gaupel now works for Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is backing one of Brewer's challengers, Dean Martin.
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"There's no question this is political," he said. "I think they're trying to entrap the governor."
Clean Elections Commission Director Todd Lang is recommending that Brewer's campaign not be penalized for Gutier's actions, saying he could find no "proof of coordination" with Gutier. Brewer also agreed to withdraw the three $5 contributions in question.
The commission is scheduled to vote on Lang's recommendations at its meeting tomorrow. They will also consider a conciliation agreement with Gutier, which he said will require him to pay a $500 fine.
Gutier said he's already paid an estimated $1,000 in attorney's fees. "I'm going to have a tough time explaining to my wife what this has cost me for three $5 contributions," he said.