State Capitol News
8:26 am
Wed June 29, 2011

Fiesta Bowl Asking Lawmakers to Justify Taking Free Ticket and Travel or Reimburse the Organization

Phoenix, AZ – Bowl attorney Nathan Hochman sent out letters saying that his client is allowed to give away travel, meals, lodging and tickets -- but only if it furthers the purpose of the non-profit organization. He wants the legislators and others to detail how their travels benefit the bowl versus personal interests. There's a lot of money involved, with Hochman concluding the Fiesta Bowl shelled out more than $160,000 in the last decade. The request brought an angry reaction from several recipients like Sen. Rich Crandall.

(I don't have to prove to you there was a benefit. Your board and directors said it was a benefit. You didn't go back to them and ask them how they felt it was a benefit. I don't have to justify anything to you.)

That's also the assessment of Sen. Linda Lopez.

(I was invited by them. I was told when I was invited, and on every trip I went, that it was important for legislators to be there meeting with the folks from the other conferences, promoting the Fiesta Bowl. It was important for the economy of the state. They're the ones who wanted me to go and help promote the Fiesta Bowl, not the other way around.)

The largest recipient of travel related money according to Fiesta Bowl records was Senate President Russell Pearce, with Hochman putting the value of what he got at more than $39,000. But Pearce said he was told the trips, particularly to games in Dallas, were important to preserving the status of the Fiesta Bowl in the Bowl Championship Series, where the national championship game is rotated among its four members. At the time there was a big push by Texas officials to become a fifth member, which would mean Arizona would get the game only once every five years, or possibly even replace the Fiesta on the schedule.

(The whole thing was about BCS. Because Dallas was the competition, especially after building that billion-dollar stadium. But Dallas was the competition. They'd always been.)

The maneuver appears to be a belated effort by the Fiesta Bowl to protect its tax-exempt status. In the letters, Hochman said he cannot say whether spending money to send lawmakers and others on trips violates federal laws. But he said that the Bowl will do what is necessary to maintain its tax status, even if it means seeking reimbursement from elected officials. But Pearce said it's wrong to put the burden on lawmakers who were told they were helping.

(Nobody asked for these trips. Nobody asked for any gifts. If anything's wrong or improper because of their national charitable classification, that's between them and the feds, not us.)

The whole request left Sen. John McComish a bit bemused.

(It's like a friend invited you to his out of town wedding and said he was going to pay for it. Then five years later, he gets a divorce and sends you the bill.)

Hochman did not return a call to his office seeking comment. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.