Yesterday I reported on the story that's taking up lotsa TV news time in Arizona. It seems the long-time CEO of the Fiesta Bowl, John Junker, has been bilking his employer for millions of dollars over the last decade. On top of that, Junker and at least 10 other Fiesta Bowl employees made illegal campaign contributions to some well-known names, including Senator McCain, Senator Kyl, and Governor Brewer. The employees were reimbursed for their generosity by the Fiesta Bowl, and then they concocted a conspiracy to conceal their political shenanigans from investigators when the story broke in 2009.
The 276-page PDF report reads like a how-to manual of executive management dumbfuckery. Junker's annual salary was more than $670,000, but obviously that wasn't enough; and now he and two other high-level administrators have been fired for perpetuating a culture of outrageously brazen excess and unimaginable hubris: European junkets, strip clubs, gold coins, $30,000 birthday parties, freebies galore ... you get the picture. As a result, the Fiesta Bowl's membership in the highly lucrative Bowl Championship Series is in jeopardy.
There was another statement in the report that's almost an aside: Chuck Coughlin received $557,500 over a five-year period (2005-2010) for "consulting fees" (p. 256). In the comment thread last night Cartoon Peril mentioned that this might be illegal, and it got me to wondering. If it's not illegal, it's certainly slimy as hell -- nothing new for the unbelievable level of cronyism at the State Capitol. Coughlin, you see, plays a key role Governor Jan Brewer's administration.
Now, I'm no lawyer but I play one on TV, so I don't understand how a key advisor to Brewer can accept up to $100,000 per year from a nonprofit enterprise for consulting services (i.e. lobbying), when in fact these activities may cross over into the Governor's Office. But, as we'll see below, mixing clients with his role at the Capitol is nothing new for Coughlin.
First, it's important to note that he's much more than "one of Brewer's advisers," as the Arizona Republic called him in yesterday's story. In the Gov's organizational chart, Coughlin is billed as "Senior Policy Advisor." He also directed Brewer's transition team in 2009 when she took over from Napolitano, and he chaired her 2010 campaign committee.
Sounds to me like he has his hands full serving the Governor. But outside of her office, since 1996, Chuck Coughlin has been President of HighGround Public Affairs Consultants. Yes, irony is dead. The website for this powerful gaggle of lobbyists notes that three times Chuck has been named the "Best Political Operative in Arizona." I guess that's an honor.
So let me get this straight: During the year Coughlin was chairing Brewer's transition team and subsequently running her 2010 campaign, he was also billing the Fiesta Bowl for six figures? He must've been doing something pretty special for that kind of dough. However, that's not the picture that's painted in the investigators' report: Natalie Wisneski, the bowl's chief operating officer, is quoted as saying "she did not believe that Coughlin was doing anything to benefit the Bowl" (p. 257). It sounds like he was an FOJ (Friend of John) and so Junker kept him around -- for whatever. Nice gig if you can get it.
This convoluted cronyism gets smarmier the more you dig into it. Another group that Coughlin's outfit represented during the time he worked for Brewer was the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) -- the private prison industry. The local CBS affiliate reported last year:
Gov. Jan Brewer’s campaign chairman and policy adviser is also a lobbyist for the largest private prison company in the country. Chuck Coughlin is one of two people in the Brewer administration with ties to Corrections Corporation of America. The other administration member is communications director Paul Senseman, a former CCA lobbyist. His wife still lobbies for the company. KPHO.com
After that report, Coughlin yanked the Governor's ad buy from KPHO.
The prison industry in Arizona has done well under Mr. Coughlin. Maybe he does deserve that "operative" of the year award if you're in the right business. First, the legislature passed and Brewer signed SB 1070, which means we're going to need a shitload of new cells to hold all the extra bad brown people:
Corrections Corporation of America holds the contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to lock up illegal immigrants picked up in Arizona. Tough immigration laws such as Arizona's SB 1070 could send thousands of new bodies its way, and millions of dollars. KPHO.com
And while Coughlin says his firm remained neutral during the SB 1070 debate, an NPR investigation revealed that CCA was indeed in the room with Arizona Senator Russell Pearce and other wingers when the immigration bill was being crafted:
The largest prison company in the country, the Corrections Corporation of America, was present when the model immigration legislation was drafted at an [American Legislative Exchange Council] conference last year. NPR
Also, while the state falls deeper and deeper into a financial shit hole, resulting in draconian cuts to schools, universities, healthcare, parks, social programs, and everything imaginable, the prison industry is doing quite nicely, thank you very much. When Arizona received $185 million from the Federal stimulus package late last year, for instance, the nearly 100 people who were kicked off the organ transplant waiting list thought the Governor might use a measly $5 million of it to spare their lives.
That was not to be and people are dying. However, the corrections industry got a nice $50,000,000 check, and there's another $28,000,000 lumped in there for other "security" programs. Maybe they'll use the new Fiesta Bowl stadium to house prisoners -- a two-fer for the Governor's "advisor."
I'd like to see the same team that did the Fiesta Bowl investigation sets its sights on the Capitol. It certainly does not pass the ethical sniff test that one of the state's most powerful lobbyist is the Gov's "Senior" advisor at the same time he represents industries that do business with the state.