A No-Refund Policy

A ttorney General Grant Woods failed to force Governor J. Fife Symington III's 1994 reelection campaign committee to refund excess contributions from a lobbyist, state records show.

Marvin Homer Cronberg, executive director of the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association, contributed at least $1,640 to Symington's 1994 reelection committee, far above the legal limit of $640.

Cronberg was convicted in 1994 of illegally disguising corporate contributions as personal donations. He was fined $10,000 and sentenced to one year of probation.

Although investigators obtained copies of Cronberg's checks to Symington's reelection campaign in February 1994, the Attorney General's Office never ordered Symington's campaign to refund the excess contributions.

Kari Dozer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, says the Attorney General's Office verbally notified the Symington campaign that Cronberg's contributions may have exceeded limits.

Dozer says the AG's Office told the campaign, "If it needs to be refunded, refund it."

She says the Symington campaign responded that it would reconcile its books and make any needed adjustments.

There has been no formal review by the Attorney General's Office of whether the Symington campaign ever refunded Cronberg's contributions, Dozer says.

"If they didn't refund it, that is something that should be brought to our attention," Dozer says.

A comprehensive review by New Times of campaign contribution records at the Secretary of State's Office shows no evidence of refunds made by the Symington campaign to Cronberg.

Symington campaign attorney Steven A. Betts declined to return several phone calls seeking comment. Betts, however, told a Phoenix television station last week that the Symington campaign never reimbursed Cronberg.

Secretary of State Jane Hull, whose office is in charge of monitoring campaign contributions, refused to return a call, as did Symington's press secretary, Doug Cole.

Under state campaign-finance law, Hull is required to report suspected campaign violations to the attorney general. If a violation is found, the campaign must correct the violation or be subject to a civil penalty equal to three times the illegal contribution.

The apparent failure to repay Cronberg's excess contributions supports a claim made earlier this year by Marjorie Kendall, a former secretary for the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand, which kept the books for Symington's campaigns.

Kendall told attorney general investigators that the Symington campaign frequently failed to reimburse contributors who made excessive donations. She told investigators that the campaign wrote checks to reimburse people who exceeded legal limits, but some checks were never sent to the contributors.

Cronberg was uncertain about the details of his contributions, but says he thought some of the money was returned--although he couldn't find a check to support that belief.

"My recollection is not perfectly clear," he says.
That's understandable. The donations certainly dredge up painful memories.
Cronberg pleaded guilty on March 10, 1994, in Maricopa County Superior Court to making criminal corporate campaign contributions to Symington and other candidates.

The Automobile Dealers Association also pleaded guilty to making unlawful corporate campaign contributions to Symington. The organization was fined $20,000.

After the convictions, Cronberg continued to work at the Automobile Dealers Association and continued his lobbying activities.

As part of a plea agreement, Cronberg admitted he was illegally reimbursed by the Automobile Dealers Association after making personal contributions totaling $1,100 to Symington's election campaign committees in 1992 and 1993.

But public records--including those obtained by the attorney general--show Cronberg contributed far more than $1,100 to the Symington campaign committees.

The attorney general's records show Cronberg made contributions to Symington's campaign four times: $250 on December 3, 1992; $750 on January 7, 1993; $100 on May6, 1993; and $640 on October 8, 1993.

Cronberg also made a $610 contribution to the Symington '90 campaign on May 17, 1991.