With a little help from my friends: Public servants using office for financial gain

Mar 8th, 2012 | By | Category: cronyism, Featured Articles, political corruption

When one works for a party that holds a super majority in this state, he/she is entitled to a few benefits. Or at least that’s what some of the Republicans in power believe.

Notice that I said when one works for a “party” and not when one works for the “people.” That’s an important distinction because it’s become quite clear that many of our state’s elected officials have little regard for the people they represent.

If they did, they wouldn’t try to limit public comment on pending legislation like Don Shooter, a Republican from Yuma and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee tried to do. Nor would they try to thwart the voters’ explicit wishes of having a commission, independent of the legislature, in charge of redistricting. Republican Andy Tobin, upset with the maps created by the IRC, decided to create his own set of maps, while his friend, fellow Republican Andy Biggs, set out to repeal the independent commission and return the power to, you guessed it, state legislators.

If Republicans in power cared about those represented, they wouldn’t craft a budget behind closed doors, file it on a Monday afternoon, then approve it by noon the next day. They’d allow time for input from constituents and even from their co-workers on the other side of the aisle, the Democrats. Notice I said “co-workers,” not “sworn enemies.” Despite what we’ve witnessed from this state and from Washington, it is possible, and dare I say beneficial, to work with your co-workers on legislation.

But that type of benefit – working for the public good – pales in comparison with the benefit one receives when working for individual good, or rather, individual gain.

Take, for example, Mike Zullo, the lead “cold case posse” investigator in Arpaio’s birther probe. Zullo stands to make a mint off his shocking, and completely debunked, examination of President Obama’s birth certificate. Mr. Zullo announced the debut of his book just one day after announcing the results of his “investigation,” an investigation that fails to offer any evidence worthy of a trial.

As Sheriff’s candidate Paul Penzone noted, “I have never seen a sitting law enforcement officer authorize an investigator to profit from a case prior to it being tried in a court of law. Until now.”

But let’s be honest. This was never a real investigation, and it will never be tried in a court of law. This has always been about two things, publicity and money. Arpaio got all the publicity he wanted, and he and his friends stand to make a ton of money in return. Arpaio profits by using the investigation as a fundraising tool for his reelection campaign, while his “investigator” profits by selling a book about it.

But perhaps the award for the most blatant act of cronyism should go to State Representative Steve Yarbrough and friends. Yarbrough operates the second-largest school tuition organization (STO) in Arizona. STO’s are nonprofits that are created to facilitate the transfer of funds from taxpayers to students for the purpose of private school tuition scholarships. These STO’s are allowed to use up to 10 percent of tax credit monies for administrative costs with no dollar limit on the 10 percent. Mr. Yarbrough’s compensation is considered an administrative cost.

Yarbrough’s newest legislation doubles the amount individuals can contribute to private school tuition scholarships, which in turn has the potential to double Mr. Yarbrough’s income. How convenient.

Mr. Yarbrough says this isn’t a conflict of interest. How can it be classified as anything else? Yarbrough’s legislation offers him a direct monetary gain.

But Yarbrough, like Zullo, couldn’t have landed this cushy payoff without a little help. Which gives new meaning to the old saying, “it pays to have friends.”

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4 Comments to “With a little help from my friends: Public servants using office for financial gain”

  1. Mike Slater says:

    Julie, let me guess, you’re a liberal right?

    • Julie Erfle says:

      Mike, I consider myself a moderate, but in this state, Republicans in power have gone so far to the extreme that even moderates are considered liberal. That’s sad because the vast majority of Americans consider themselves moderates, and I believe, the vast majority of policy decisions should be decided somewhere in the middle.

      When it comes to political cronyism or corruption, however, I would think EVERYONE would be on the same page, regardless of whether one’s liberal, conservative or moderate. If you only object when it’s the “other” party, then you don’t really object to the action but rather the person.

  2. Mike Slater says:

    Julie, I have to disagree that the vast majority of Americans consider themselves moderates. Most of the country is either liberal or conservative with Moderates making up a small portion of voters.

    • Julie Erfle says:

      Mike, approximately 30% of Arizona’s registered voters are registered as Independents. We have more registered Independents than Democrats and almost as many Independents as Republicans. Across America, this group of individuals makes up roughly a third of all voters and is the fastest growing group of voters. Many registered Democrats and Republicans also identify themselves as moderates or centrists, particularly the so-called Blue Dog Democrats and Compassionate Conservatives. When candidates are looking to win primaries, they speak to their base, which tends to be more “liberal” or “conservative.” But when candidates are looking to win a general election, they have to speak to the Independents and try to take a more moderate approach because the majority of Arizonans and Americans align themselves in the middle. The problem is, we don’t have a lot of people speaking for those centrist positions because politicians are in constant reelection mode, and the media tends to focus its attention of those making the loudest noises, which tend to be the extremes.

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