Senator won't return Fiesta Bowl cash

Updated: May 24, 2011, 11:17 PM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Politicians who received letters from the Fiesta Bowl requesting that they return tainted campaign contributions are responding, and none appear too happy to be tarred with the same brush as the bowl's ousted CEO.

U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona has offered the latest pushback, sending a caustic letter to the bowl's lawyer that called the return of the money inappropriate since the Fiesta Bowl had admitted improper conduct.

Kyl said he would give the $3,000 he received to the American Red Cross to help with tornado relief. The reply on letterhead that read "Jon Kyl for U.S. Senate" was provided to The Associated Press late Monday.

"In the past, when I have learned that funds have been improperly contributed to my campaign, I have donated them to charity; and since the Fiesta Bowl now acknowledges impropriety, that's what I will do," Kyl wrote.

The bowl's lawyer would not comment.

A Fiesta Bowl report released March 29 detailed reimbursements to employees and their families for political donations, which was in apparent violation of federal and state laws. There was no indication the politicians knew the money they received was in fact coming from the bowl, a tax exempt group that is barred from making political donations.

About two dozen local, state and federal politicians received donations totaling more than $48,000 between 2000 and 2009. The report also documented thousands of dollars in inappropriate spending. The bowl fired longtime president and CEO John Junker in response.

The bowl said it is obligated to try to recover the money to maintain its non-profit status.

Kyl joined fellow Arizona Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain in saying he would give the tainted money to charity. Three McCain campaign accounts received $19,500 from bowl employees who were later reimbursed in apparent violation of federal laws.

Federal election law requires candidates who learn of illegal campaign contributions to return them to the donor, said Mary Brandenberger, a spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission. She said she could not be certain if making a donation to charity met that requirement.

Two former Arizona congressmen, John Shadegg and J.D. Hayworth, also were sent letters seeking reimbursement. Shadegg has not responded to inquiries about his plans. Hayworth told the AP he had not received the letter and that his campaign accounts are closed.

Among the Arizona politicians who have said they would not return money from bowl employees are Gov. Jan Brewer, Secretary of State Ken Bennett and state Senate President Russell Pearce.

Brewer said Tuesday she had not yet received the letter from the bowl seeking $560 her campaign received in 2009. "Maybe they don't know where to find me," she said.

She said she has no money in campaign accounts and will not pay back the money out of her own funds. She ran for governor last year as a publically funded candidate under the state's Clean Elections law.

"I did nothing wrong," Brewer said. "I accepted donations. They committed a crime, I guess, and reimbursed someone."

"They can go to Clean Elections and get their money," she added.

Bennett has previously said he was put off by the request and that candidates that took the money did nothing wrong, a sentiment that his spokesman, Matt Roberts, repeated Tuesday.

"The illegal activity had nothing to do with the contributions to elected officials like Secretary Bennett," Roberts said. "There is no obligation for us to return it, and the legal means to do that would be difficult to ascertain because the committees have been closed for nearly 10 years."

He also questioned the motives of the bowl, calling it "a public PR effort to protect their IRS status."

The scandal at the Fiesta Bowl, which also hosts the national football championship every four years, put its role as one of the four top-tier bowl groups in jeopardy. But it has avoided the worst sanctions -- the loss of the championship game and its NCAA license.

The Bowl Championship Series fined the Fiesta Bowl $1 million earlier this month, and last week the NCAA placed it on probation for a year.

The Fiesta Bowl also is preparing to send bills to lawmakers who accepted free trips and football game tickets. Arizona legislators can accept gifts of travel from lobbyists and their employers, and, in limited circumstances, tickets to entertainment events. They must report trips as gifts.

A criminal investigation into whether some lawmakers illegally received game tickets or gifts was being conducted by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. The Arizona Attorney General's Office is investigating other aspects of the case.

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Associated Press writer Paul Davenport contributed.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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