Journalist Roundtable: Debbie Lesko’s campaign finances, Montenegro receiving nude photos, gun control

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The Journalist Roundtable discusses Debbie Lesko’s possible money laundering allegations, Steve Montenegro’s inappropriate relationship with a junior staffer and the reality of Arizona passing any gun control regulations in the near future.

GOP Donnybrook: Lesko vs. Lovas

“Grab your popcorn,” Arizona Republic’s Dianna Náñez says.

The controversy began when Lesko revised her campaign finance filing at the last minute. She has about $50,000 of state money that she transferred to an independent political expenditure committee that has been financing her congressional campaign. Republican Phil Lovas, who is trailing third in the primary, filed complaints with the FEC and Arizona Attorney General’s Office. Lesko has turned around and threatened to sue Lovas.

The law is unclear when it comes to leftover state campaign money. However, it is clear that transferring the money to a committee that is solely designed to help someone in the federal race is not allowed.

Luige del Puerto from Arizona Capitol Times says the question at the moment is if this situation can pass the conduct test. The conduct test refers to the question if a committee had any communication with the candidate’s team. Howard Fischer from Capitol Media Services says the answers will be revealed long after everyone has voted.

The Lesko campaign has denied the allegations of illegal coordination or money laundering.

GOP Donnybrook: Montenegro vs. Photo

This story begins with a back-and-forth between Republican congressional candidate and former Arizona senator Montenegro and a junior staffer in her 30s. The conversations happened through private messages on Twitter, Snapchat and text messages. It began as banter, gossip and comments about work. The staffer sent Montengro a nude photo, which has since been released to the public by her ex-boyfriend.

“This is tied into the never-ending relationships, sexual harassment, #MeToo movements, was it consensual,” Náñez says. “Even if it was [consensual], there was a state senator involved with a junior staff member… The attorney has said potentially she’s a victim here because her boyfriend released these photos.”

Montenegro immediately brushed off the news as “fake tabloid trash.” Eventually, during an interview with the Washington Examiner, he admitted to receiving the photo. He claims his fault was becoming too comfortable with the staffer, del Puerto says.

Náñez asks if the lines that shouldn’t be crossed have been clearly drawn. If not, then when will they be.

Del Puerto says the staffer has since left her position. According to her, the relationship never became physical. Del Puerto mentions that the whole picture will never be seen because the conversations had via Snapchat can’t be recovered.

The controversy around the relationship had little to do with age, Fischer points out. The age difference around six years. Náñez says one of the key issues lies within power dynamics. It’s a trend that is seen through inappropriate work relationships.

State House Blocks Bump-Stock Ban

A cry for stricter gun control regulations went out following the school shooting that took place in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14 and took 17 lives. President Donald Trump has agreed to place a ban on bump-stocks which turns a rifle into an automatic weapon.

“The Democrats have a number of gun regulation bills. Guess how many of them got heard? I can count them on less than one hand,” Fischer says. “The Democrats tried a procedural move. They made a motion on the floor to say notwithstanding any other rule, this bill that has been out of committee should be brought immediately to the floor for a roll call vote. Force the vote. Needless to say, the Republicans found any reason to say why this should not come up for a vote. The question then became what is the cause of school violence… Abortions, video games, everyone had an excuse except for the guns.”

The opportunity to strengthen gun control has appeared every year. The journalists at the table all agreed that they don’t see any change happening during this session. The real push for the state to do something will happen when there are changes on the federal level.

Luige del Puerto: Arizona Capitol Times
Dianna Náñez: Arizona Republic
Howard Fischer: Capitol Media Services

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