Journalists’ Roundtable

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Local Arizona journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," an investigation shows Attorney General Tom Horne broke campaign finance laws while running for office in 2010. All signs point to a close U.S. Senate race between Democrat Richard Carmona and Republican Jeff Flake. This as the candidates prepare for a debate next week here on "Arizona Horizon." And State Representative Ben Arredondo pleads guilty to federal charges stemming from an FBI investigation. The "Journalists' Roundtable" is next on "Arizona Horizon." Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary K. Reinhart of the "The Arizona Republic," Howard Fischer of the "Capitol Media Services," and Steve Goldstein of KJZZ-FM Radio. Attorney General Tom Horne accused of breaking campaign finance laws by coordinating with an independent expenditure campaign during his 2010 election. The accusations, by the way, coming from the county attorney Bill Montgomery. Give us an overview, what's going on here?
Mary K. Reinhart: A 14-month investigation by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to business leaders for Arizona, which was this independent expenditure committee, and the allegation is that the attorney general communicated through e-mails and phone calls with folks who were raising this money, how much are we going to raise, how are we going to spend it, how best to target this roughly $500,000. What happened with that money is that it went into last minute--the campaign was almost broke, the money comes in and goes to some last-minute television ads, and he goes onto narrowly wins the race again Felicia Rotellini.
Ted Simons: The operative word on the independent expenditure committee is independent.
Howard Fischer: That becomes the problem that Tom's got. There are a couple of e-mails, that seems to be as close as you can get to smoking guns. One says, we need to raise another $100,000 dollars. Another seems to suggest we need to change the message in the ad. A lot of this is circumstantial. There are a lot of back-and-forth conversations between Kathleen Wynn who ran this committee and Tom Horne. Well, have you seen any of these independent expenditure committees since Citizens United? Have you noticed Mitt Romney hanging around with these folks? Just talking to these people by itself isn't enough. What Bill Montgomery is going to have to prove to an administrative law judge is that there was an active effort to coordinate. Therefore both he as attorney general and Kathleen Wynn as the person running the campaign are guilty, and could be fined up to a million and a half dollars between the two of them.
Steve Goldstein: We've heard from Bill Montgomery, I think this is the second time since the Fiesta Bowl was the first time, is now saying the laws don't have enough teeth. I think it's interesting to spend as much time as Mary K. said, spend a 14 month investigation ultimately say yes, this guy did something wrong and I really can't do much about it. Maybe fine them, but there really isn't much. It begs the question, will there be a change in the laws. As how we say in Citizens United, probably not.
Howard Fischer: That's been the problem. We watched this with Fiesta Bowl as was pointed out. Some had bills to deal with campaign finance reporting. Let's see, where did they -- oh, I know, they went into the bottom drawer of the Republican leadership. This one, same sort of problem. I think that a lot of lawmakers think, there but for the grace of God go I. They are worried if it is tightened up too much, somehow some of these groups they work with -- Steve Pierce had a independent expenditure committee he was using for something else. Are they going to end up in trouble themselves.
Ted Simons: The idea is this money, this money, apparently the phone calls and e-mails to and from Tom Horne happened late in the campaign, in which his treasure chest was basically on empty, mixing metaphors there. All of the sudden, here comes the phone calls, the e-mails, the money, here come the attack ads, voila, you've got a win. That sounds like a lot of smoke from a lot of guns there.
Mark K. Reinhart: Well, it does, but it's how he's said. You've got to show that he actually was coordinating with Kathleen Wynn who was collecting this money. You know, if there's e-mails in there that talk about changing the message you know, here's how we need to spend the money, here's how much we need. This thing's got to play out. I think in terms of whether or not the laws the laws are going to get toughened at the legislature, we saw what happened with the Fiesta Bowl legislation, it's not bloody likely.
Howard Fischer: And as you point out, we doubt the question, what's public knowledge? If Tom Horne lets it be known, I am out of money, candidates make those statements all the time, we see that. If he's making that statement, and he knows even if Katherine Wynn is sitting on the other side of the room, but it's being made, that's not a secret, that's not a violation. It's only when you're saying, I want you to run this ad. Again, this is going to be an interesting hearing. It's a civil hearing in front of an administrative law judge. And the rules of evidence are a little different than the criminal cases.
Steve Goldstein: Let's finish back to the world of politics of 2010, if we remember the Republican landslide in every single race, really, except for this one. And Felicia Rotellini expressed she was unhappy of how this turned out, if in fact, it's true and she should be because if Tom Horne was in fact out of money and this could be proven to be a violation, she may have been that one lone Democrat crying, hey, I'm actually won, hey I'm actually the next Janet Napolitano, and now she can't be.
Ted Simons: Talk about the dynamics here as far as perhaps a future governor's race. You've got Bill Montgomery over here, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, I think his quote was, unquestionably, Mr. Horne sought funds from the group. And you've got Mr. Horne, himself, who no doubt has higher political ambitions. What's going on?
Steve Goldstein: One hates to think that Ken Bennett would've been happy that Tom Horne might be having some political trouble, but I couldn't help notice he did seems kind of happy about that. Now, of course after his own little "was President Obama born here or not," Ken Bennett could use someone to have the bad attention on him. I thought it was interesting, too, that Montgomery is coming across very clean, after Andy Thomas, comparing himself to Tom Horne. I don't think Montgomery has -- aspirations, yet, but certainly attorney general no question.
Howard Fischer: Again, he also pointed out, he said look, this office is open again in 2014. I will not be a candidate. In fact, he took pains to point out if how Tom Horne is forced out or otherwise leaves, I will not take the office. He is trying to at least put some distance there.
Ted Simons: The FBI is investigating, including apparently tailing not only the attorney general but folks who work in the attorney general's office, to the point that now we have a little ancillary aspect to the story.
Mary K. Reinhart: Well see, that's the thing I don't really get. If this is an FBI investigation into -- what? Title 16 of the state statutes? Why are they tailing this guy? What they evidently did was follow Tom Horne, as he leaves his office, ad his car, and his assistant attorney general, Carmen Chenal, she leaves the attorney general's office in her car, they drive to a downtown parking garage, they emerge in her car. He's driving, he's wearing a baseball cap. Hilarity ensues. They continue on into the Carmen's neighborhood, where unfortunately Mr. Horne eventually apparently backs into a white Range Rover.
Ted Simons: And doesn't leave a note, saying contact my insurance company.
Mary K. Reinhart: He says he doesn't think any damage is done. Apparently, a fender bender, a hit and run makes it sounds a little worse than maybe--but you don't leave a number, the white Range Rover wants some compensation.
Howard Fischer: The funny thing is, in the world of politics, what will people remember in the 2014 race? This whole thing about independent expenditures? No. People relate to somebody backed into my car and didn't leave a note. That is far more damning politically to Tom Horne than anything else.
Ted Simons: Especially someone wearing a baseball cap.
Steve Goldstein: I know, and we want to know if it's a Diamondbacks capo or not, as well. It seems like so much gossip. I know we're drawn to this, but Howie's right because he public, independent expenditures, even public broadcasting viewers, Ted, would say this, it's a little bit dry. So, people are going to remember this. I think it just piles on. I don't think this is significant in with itself.
Ted Simons: You don't think people will be talking about this?
Steve Goldstein: I think they will. As Mary K. said, it's a fender bender. He's a top law enforcement official, I'm not saying he should have done this, but I would say this in a vacuum doesn't matter.
Howard Fishcer: But there's no vacuum, that's the problem. It's like everything else, the stuff going on with Sheriff Joe. There's no one thing that's gone on with his office. But the accumulation is what becomes the issue.
Ted Simons: Any Republicans rallying to the attorney general's defense, that we know of?
Howard Fischer and Mary K. Reinhart: It's very quiet.
Steve Goldstein: I was even going to say Horne's relationship with the party hasn't been that great. We know he was a Democrat until about a dozen years ago. He's also had issues with Governor Brewer because Tom Horne likes attention and wants his own opinion out there. I wouldn't be surprised if everyone sort of wouldn't throw him under the bus, but will let him get rolled a little bit.
Ted Simons: Speaking of someone who's changed parties and now has a different set of troubles, Ben Arredondo pleads guilty, Howie, to two felonies. Back in May pleading not guilty to a bunch of charges. Accepting bribes for an education scholarship fund?
Howard Fischer: There were two issues here. The bribe issue really comes down to the fact, this was when he was a Tempe City Councilman, and the FBI did a sting. They set up something called Company A. Company A wanted to get a deal with the City and they came to Ben and said, look, we need some inside information. How much are they willing to sell or rent the property for? How do we get some positive stuff? And according to what he admitted to, he took four Fiesta Bowl tickets, more than a dozen Diamondbacks tickets. There was a Duke game in there somewhere. Why he got tickets to a Duke game, who knows. The other one is he had set up a fund for supposedly needy kids for a scholarship. Well, the needy kids included his family. I think the FBI had a little problem with that, particularly since it wasn't disclosed.
Ted Simons: You just mentioned this with the Tom Horne investigation, where we've got federal agents tailing the attorney general and his assistant all over town. We've got federal agents setting up bogus development companies and it's -- it's -- why? Why so much attention?
Mary K Reinhart: They were also here and led to the downfall of another Democratic legislator a few months earlier, Ben Miranda, who has pled to federal charges. So, they've been very active. There may be other shoes dropping, we don't know. But in this case, they were hanging around as Howie said with Mr. Arredondo, as he was a Tempe City Councilman at that time, as he was about to become a state legislator. According to the plea agreement, Mr. Arredondo was telling them, "You guys will ask, you guys will have, I don't know how else to say it, we'll be fine, because not only we're covered at the City, were covered now at the State."
Ted Simons: Yes.
Mary K. Reinhart: That's a disturbing quote.
Ted Simons: That's a hard one to get past.
Mary K. Reinhart: A hard one to get past. So, then we have him going on, evidently, a charge, I don't think we knew about until this plea agreement, which was that roughly $50,000 bucks worth of scholarships that folks donated thinking they were going to needy children and they went to his own family and relatives.
Ted Simons: Is the FBI saying we've got some fish in a barrel here, let's just start shooting?
Steve Goldstein: It sounds that way to me. I'm going to be the resident cynic, please shoot at me all you want.
Howard Fischer: Okay.
Steve Goldstein: I know what Arredondo has pleaded to, he did it, he did something wrong. I do think back to a time when this would have been not that big a deal in Arizona or really anyplace else because it was sort of politics as usual. Didn't make it right, but that's why I'm curious to see where we go with ethics forward especially, when lawmakers are writing their own rules.
Howard Fischer: The funny thing was, this was all supposed to be taken care of after ABSCAM. Same sort of sting operation. We were interested in getting laws on legalized gaming. Well, who's going to bite? Well, the people tend to get what the people were probably in favor of legalized gaming in the first place. Some of it was very disturbing stuff, Chewy --saying I want the shrimp concession of this new gambling association. Carolyn Walker saying I want to die a rich woman. Video tape. wonderful TV stuff. I think from the FBI's perspective, believe me I'm not here to defend them. I think they believe part of the role is somebody needs to come in as an outsider and look at public corruption at all levels of government. That's one of our prime directives.
Mary K. Reinhart: I'll go ahead and shoot it, Steve.
Steve Goldstein: Please.
Mary K. Reinhart: Because I watched those tapes, I was here for ABSCAM, it was sad to watch, it wasn't wonderful to me. It was troubling to see lawmaker after lawmaker after lawmaker sit there and say, gimme, gimme, gimme. I know they are not paid a lot of money. I know, I mean I don't know, it's a thankless task being a state lawmaker. But they asked for it. They asked for the votes, they were elected and they made a vow. I think this is pretty important stuff frankly. Whether it's big or little, I think it's pretty important stuff to be able to say to a state legislator or a City Councilman, you can't do this, to the citizens who put you in office.
Howard Fishcer: Now we're going down to the question, is this going to the FBI. And maybe it's because they don't think the attorney general--
Ted Simons: That's my original question, maybe they are seeing all this, we've got fertile ground and let's go. And they have gone.
Howard Fischer: And they've gone. There was another one that came out, John Mills was charged with borrowing, quote, unquote, a couple hundred thousand from Jim Weiers' campaign account, putting it back and the interesting thing on that case could be that Weirs said, I don't have a problem, he put it back.
Ted Simons: We discussed that one last Friday and tried to get our minds wrapped around that kind of logic. We have a new poll regarding the U.S. Senate race. It showed this was public policy polling. Does it lean left or lean right?
Steve Goldstein: It leans right.
Ted Simons: Okay, that's why Richard Carmona has a little bit of a lead now over--?
Steve Goldstein: Well, but yes, but it also showed Mitt Romney with a nine-point lead over President Obama, which a lot of people would say fits in. People might expect Romney to win this thing by ten or so. This one shows within the margin of error about a three-point lead for Carmona. The last poll had a one-point lead for Jeff Flake. If I remember the numbers it was 44-43. It shows that Carmona has some sort of appeal to independents in particular. That's what the results of this poll showed. He is getting more Republicans and Jeff Flake is getting Democrats. There's a lot of money coming into this race, as well. Everyone you talk to, even ours will tell you this off the record, Richard Carmona has an unbelievable bio and people are drawn to him. If he were in another state that might lean more to President Obama, I would give him odds on. This case..
Howard Fischer: And as you know, these polls are snapshots at a particular point in time. How's your sampling? What about those folks who only have cell phones. With this purple poll that came out a few weeks ago where they tried to find the cell phone users, they are interesting things. They show not so much in an individual poll but they can show trends, that's an interesting thing. Even staying within the margin of error, if they show somebody's got momentum, same thing at the presidential level, is Romney getting a bump off of his very good performance the other night.
Ted Simons: The same poll shows that 12% were undecided in the race and most of those undecided in the senators' race, most favored Romney 58-37. Which makes you wonder, are they going to go back toward the Republican side?
Howard Fischer: Unlike some states where you go and pull a Republican lever, you have to go down and vote each one. I'm not saying, they aren't people seeing a R, Genghis Kahn, Republican, sure, I'll vote for him. We saw with the attorney general's race, the one we just talked about, the fact is that Jan Brewer won by a large margin, yet they somehow, enough of those people found Felicia Rotellini interesting enough or found Tom Horne problematic enough to vote for them. So, we have seen a lot of ticket splitting.
Mary K. Reinhart: Arizona is just a wacky state. With all the independents and the growth of the independents, that's why we've seen Democrats win statewide office time and time again. Not to the U.S. Senate, I guess, but --
Howard Fischer: And this one other factor, which is we see this every two years. What else brings them out? Look there are no other state, the corporation commission race we'll talk about in a minute, it's the ballot measures. Sales tax increase, open primary, maybe a little on the judges thing. But the sales tax increase thing and the open primary, who gets out the vote on that will depend. If you're very much in favor of open primaries, I'm guessing you'll be skewed a little more toward Carmona.
Steve Goldstein: It'll be interesting to see your debate next week, free plug, by the way.
Ted Simons: Thank you.
Steve Goldstein: With Carmona to see what the strategy is. Is Carmona going to play up his bio, or is he going to play up some of the outside group negative ads against Jeff Flake? If Carmona plays positive, that's going to appeal more to independents probably.
Ted Simons: And the debate is scheduled for Wednesday night here on Arizona Horizon. It's an hour long and I can't wait. A lot of folks want to see these two guys together. They want to see how they respond to questions. There is a lot of interest in it. A lot of national interest in this race. This is big stuff here.
Howard Fischer: As you say, the only statewide race other than corporation commission. And the fact is, these aren't your typical candidates. Jeff Flake fought with his own party for a long time over things like I think we should recognize Cuba. For a long time, he said, we should come up with a plan for -- I won't use the amnesty word, but the illegal immigrants. Carmona, has somebody who's served with the Republican administration. These aren't your typical…
Ted Simons: Independent and now a Democrat. Border agent killed, one agent killed, 30-year-old Nicholas Ivy, another agent injured and another agent uninjured, happened 1:30 a.m., eastern Arizona, a drug smuggling corridor. This story was just lousy from the get-go. Now we find out there's a lot of evidence that friendly fire was involved here. Give us an overview, Howie, on this, and the political ramifications, especially the criticism of the Governor's initial response. Because it was -- before we knew it was friendly fire, it was a curious response. Now that we know it's friendly fire, it's --
Howard Fischer: I haven't heard anything from Jan. I've lived down in Bisbee there and I know the area very well. There is a corridor down there.
Ted Simons: Smugglers Alley, they call it.
Howard Fischer: Smuggler's Alley because there are a lot of washes down there. You could actually be standing here and the distance from me to you is a drop where people can sneak by, moonlit nights, exactly what happened. A border sensor got tripped, there are a lot of them down there. Some of these are very sophisticated, some of these are Vietnam era things. They go out to investigate. All of a sudden you hear shouting, maybe you hear a shot, you fire back, you think you're being shot at. What we know right now, is there's a very good chance, based on the shell casings that were found down there, that the only shots fired were by the border patrol agents. Now, that gets to our political problem. Most of the comments that came out were statements of regret, sorrow, feelings for the family. Not our governor, our governor said, this shows the Obama administration has still not secured the border. I will remember this day.
Ted Simons: 558 days since the administration said the border was safer than ever. I'll remember that statement today. And the question is, of all the things to remember on a day like that.
Howard Fischer: There are things that you do. I used to do a little bit of P.R. Sometimes what you tell a client is what not to say. Just I'm sorry, this is a horrible situation, and you sit back and wait for the facts to develop. He didn't.
Ted Simons: Border issues, the Rob Krentz murder, obviously a very big story, and wound up having a political impact, as well. Border issues in general, something like this in particular, impact? We had an election coming up pretty quickly.
Steve Goldstein: When you have a border patrol agent die, now, the fact that we presume it's going to be friendly fire as a determination, that would modify it quite a bit. This is right on the heels of Brian Terry the last border shooting to die. And of course people will still think of nameless faceless Mexican people, what they think of drug runners. They will have an emotional reaction to it. I still have hope that people will still look at the issues and say, even if it is safer than it was before, and there's -- there are arguments that it's never going to be totally safe because you have criminals down there and border patrol agents on horseback. I couldn't believe that, either. I guess I should've known that. It was shocking to me.
Ted Simons: Mary K., do you think immigration-- Does it bubble up again? It doesn't seem like it's getting quite the attention that it has in previous elections.
Mary K. Reinhart: It doesn't seem like it's getting quite the attention but I think things like Fast and the Furious certainly bring it back to the surface of a shooting like this will get people talking and perhaps as Steve said, maybe if it starts a broader conversation about immigration reform, something good will come out of it. But certainly I think this -- pardon me, I'm not even going to say it. The idea that the Governor would say something, that anybody would say something at a time like that. And then as I understand it not being able to walk that back today, yet, I think is unfortunate.
Howard Fischer: I don't think she walks things back. I think she says it still doesn't matter and they went down there and they thought there were drug runners, there were drug runners down there, the sensors were tripped. The other piece of it that I think this is going to me it's going to bubble up is, look at the presidential race. It's about the economy, it's about jobs. Mitt Romney gets in the middle and tells the "Denver Post" he is going to allow the dreams, not going allow the dreamers. This is so far down the radar of what people care about. 8% jobless rate, 7%-- 8%, whatever it is.
Ted Simons: What does that say this, that a border agent gets killed under the umbrella of law enforcement down there, against illegal immigrants, smugglers, whatever you want to call them. It's not registering?
Steve Goldstein: I think if I registered Arizona, why wouldn't that be a big issue between Carmona and Flake? It could because they both had moderate viewpoints on that. That's where you might see a great discussion.
Howard Fischer: But what do you say? You know, A, it's unfortunate, B, we need to secure the border. People in both parties say that. C, we need a permanent solution, maybe even D, if you want to go a step beyond, if we had legalized marijuana. We wouldn't have people bring bales of marijuana across--
Steve Goldstein: Well and Ted, you had former A.G. Terry Goddard on, I talked to him this week, as well, but the series of stories from the Morrison Institute about how to fix a broken border. When he was A.G. he talked about going after the cartel's money and maybe not as much about soldiers and violence. You don't know. Does the treasury departments involved, you don't know.
Ted Simons: We have about 30 second left, Howie. There are about nine people left, there are nine people in the other studio here at Channel 8. For the corporation commission debate and you're going to get as much times as each candidate got to explain what happened.
Howard Fischer: Exactly. The big focus of, course, is on the renewable energy standard. The idea that the corporation commission several years ago, a Republican corporation commission, said that by 2025, 15% of all electrons have to be generated from solar renewable other sources. The current Republicans are sort of living with that, the three Democrats say we ought to expand on that, I have no idea where the Libertarian interests are coming from. He's worried about the redistribution of wealth.
Ted Simons: All right, that pretty much covers it. Good stuff, good to have you here.

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