- Associated Press - Saturday, April 12, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Several Arizona lawmakers failed to disclose free trips made last year as required by state law, spotlighting the difficulty in enforcing guidelines on the issue.

A review of annual reports shows at least nine legislators left off free trips to countries such as Israel and Mexico on their annual gift-disclosure forms, the Arizona Republic reported (https://bit.ly/1qpbvLP ) Thursday.

Any gift valued at $500 or more has to be reported, according to Arizona law.

Some lawmakers reached by the newspaper said any omission was not deliberate. Rep. Adam Kwasman, a Republican from Oro Valley, traveled to Israel last year on a trip funded by the American Israeli Education Foundation.

“Is it a gift?” said Kwasman, who has since amended his disclosure report with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. “I’ll fix it immediately. (The omission) was not out of malice.”

Six of seven state House members, including Republican House Speaker Andy Tobin, left off a delegation trip to Mexico City. Tobin said he thought disclosure wasn’t required because the trip was paid for with state funds. The trip for all seven amounted to $13,000, according to records.

House Majority Leader David Gowan, a Republican from Sierra Vista, did not list a visit to Salt Lake City paid for by Imagine Learning, a company wooing Arizona to use its software for English-language learners. He didn’t disclose the trip because he forgot, Gowan said. Three other lawmakers on that same trip also failed to disclose it but amended the reports in late March.

The disclosure of expensive freebies has become more of an issue after the Fiesta Bowl scandal four years ago involving 28 current and former lawmakers. The scandal exposed the lavish spending and perks that the Fiesta Bowl heaped on lawmakers and employees, but the investigation ended without any criminal charges being filed over those perks.

Nearly 30 lawmakers received free football or other tickets, and some got all-expense-paid trips from the bowl, but prosecutors declined to bring any charges against them. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has said the law covering legislator freebies was so vaguely written that he had no case. He recommended that the Legislature rewrite the law, but nothing was ever done on the matter.

“Generally, you only get reform after a scandal,” said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that promotes transparency in government.

A bill proposed by state Sen. Michele Reagan, who is running for Secretary of State, that would have prohibited lawmakers from accepting tickets to sports games or other events was approved by a Senate committee but then died off. The Scottsdale Republican, who disclosed free trips to Azerbaijan and Turkey, said other lawmakers resisted the idea of having to decline free tickets. Senate President Andy Biggs said the bill had technical problems.

Some lawmakers say accepting some gifts such as admission to events is a way to mingle with other legislators and get a closer look at issues they need to know about.

The Secretary of State’s Office, which puts the gift reports online, said elected officials should disclose anything that might raise a question. While failure to disclose could warrant a fine of up to $2,500 and six months in jail, authorities said no lawmaker in recent memory has been penalized to that extent.


Information from: The Arizona Republic, https://www.azcentral.com

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