Report: Fiesta Bowl campaign contributions suspect
PHOENIX (AP) – A newspaper report is raising questions about political donations made by employees of the Fiesta Bowl that may have been reimbursed by the bowl.
The report in Friday’s Arizona Republic cites several unnamed past and present Fiesta Bowl employees as saying they were encouraged to write checks to friendly politicians and then were reimbursed by the bowl.
Such reimbursements would violate state and federal campaign finance laws, and could be misdemeanors or felonies.
“If employees are giving contributions and they were being reimbursed, it’s illegal, and it’s something we definitely would review,” said Amy Bjelland, state elections director.
Fiesta Bowl chief executive John Junker said employees never were reimbursed and the bowl did not orchestrate donations.
“I don’t know of any time in my employment that I have gone to someone and asked them to make a contribution and said, ‘We will reimburse you,’ ” said Junker, who started working at the bowl in 1980.
A Republic review of campaign finance reports showed Fiesta Bowl employees made more than $38,000 in campaign donations over 10 years. It revealed that many employees wrote their checks on the same day.
The employees who claim reimbursement occurred said fundraising efforts were coordinated and the money was delivered to politicians through lobbyists.
Most contributions went to local politicians, Arizona legislators and members of Congress who could vote on legislation that could affect the Fiesta Bowl. Specific candidates typically received a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, small amounts in most candidates’ total fundraising.
During the same period, the Fiesta Bowl spent $4 million on lobbyists, trips, dinners and golf retreats to build relationships with athletic officials who control the BCS and to garner support from politicians. Those expenses are legal.
As one of only four BCS bowls, Fiesta Bowl officials worry other bowls could knock it out of the series. Spending on trips, dinners and golf retreats is the way the game is played among bowl organizations jockeying for position. The Fiesta Bowl is widely known in college football for the red-carpet treatment given to teams that play in the game.
The Republic said it was acting on a tip that Fiesta Bowl workers were reimbursed for campaign donations and contacted 10 past and present high-level employees.
Five said they made contributions at the urging of Junker and were reimbursed a few weeks later. The reimbursements, they said, came as bonus checks. The five spoke on condition of anonymity because they fear retribution. They were unable to provide bonus records but said the checks never made reference to campaign contributions.
Five other employees acknowledged they made contributions but said they were not reimbursed.
The Fiesta Bowl declined the Republic’s requests to examine its bonus records, citing privacy and other legal concerns.
Junker said reimbursements never occurred because that would be illegal. Fiesta Bowl chairman Alan Young said bonuses are only given for merit and that he believes the accusations are false.
The nonprofit and tax-exempt Fiesta Bowl generated more than $27 million in revenue for fiscal 2008, with most of the money coming from game tickets and sponsorships. The Arizona Republic has been a longtime sponsor, and Republic President and Publisher John Zidich is on the Fiesta Bowl board.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com