AN EARMARK THAT BRUCE ASH DIDN'T COMPLAIN ABOUT
In a turn of events that indicates an empire may be near its collapse, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio deposed his two top aides last week, firing David Hendershott and Larry Black.
The firings come on the tail end of an investigation by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who stepped in after another high-ranking Maricopa County Sheriff's Office member, Frank Munnell, delivered a lengthy and scathing memo detailing misdeeds within the office.
The entire saga, which has played out over a long time in Maricopa County, is too much for The Skinny to unpack. If you're interested in details, we suggest you visit the Phoenix New Times' website, since they've been after Sheriff Joe and his corrupt gang for a long time. (You might recall that their crusade got New Times executives Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin dragged off to jail on trumped-up charges.)
But there is a Tucson angle to all of this: Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash may have inadvertently helped get the investigatory ball rolling way back in 2008, with a careless comment on a political blog.
A wee bit of background: The Arizona Republican Party found itself in a weird bind after spending big bucks on a TV ad that trashed Democrat Dan Saban, who was running against Arpaio that year. A lot of political insiders wondered why the Arizona GOP was spending money on an ad accusing Arpaio's opponent of masturbating on the job (really!) when the money might have been better spent on legislative races, given that Arpaio was pretty much a lock to win.
Ash answered critics with this statement on political consultant Nathan Sproul's now-defunct blog: "The Saban ad campaign was not done using ANY funds from AZGOP which were donated for any other cause other than the specific campaign and would not have been donated had the ad campaign not been run."
At the time, we pointed out on our blog that laundering money through a political party via an earmark for a specific campaign was probably illegal.
Turns out we weren't the only ones to think so. The Arizona Attorney General's Office started looking into the case, as did the FBI, after the Arizona Republican Party had to return $105,000 that came from a mysterious group known as SCA; its donors had given money to a fund controlled by one of Sheriff Joe's goons.
The investigation's trail eventually led to Ash's doorstep. In June 2010, investigators from the state Attorney General's Office and the FBI came to Tucson to ask him about his careless comment, according to a fat stack of documents recently released to the New Times by the AG's office.
A summary of that meeting, written by Mike Edwards of the AG's office, notes that when he arrived with an FBI agent, Ash became agitated and complained that he was being ambushed, because he didn't know the federal agent would be in on the interview.
"I explained that I did not understand his concern, that the truth was the same, whether he spoke to me or the FBI," Edwards notes in the report.
That didn't do much to alleviate Ash's concerns. He had the investigators cool their heels in the lobby until his attorney, Richard Rollman, could come by and join them for the interview.
Throughout the talk with investigators, Ash had a lot of trouble recollecting anything about the funding of the TV ad that trashed Saban. Asked where he came by the knowledge that the money for the ad had been earmarked for that purpose, Ash said that it "was just conjecture on my part. I didn't get that from anybody else. I didn't know anything independently at all."
When the investigators pointed out that his statement on the blog sounded very specific and not at all like conjecture, Ash said he was just popping off, and he was pissed off that morning because of "this other crap."
Ash did remember watching the ad at John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign office in Phoenix with a group of GOP insiders, including Randy Pullen, who was then the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, and Mike Hellon, a former Arizona Republican Party chairman who doesn't get along with Pullen very well.
But he didn't recall getting a subsequent phone call from Hellon telling him to shut up about contributions being earmarked for specific campaigns.
Hellon, who was also interviewed by the AG and the FBI, had a much better memory of what went down, according to another report by Edwards. Hellon did recall watching the Saban TV attack ad with Ash, Pullen and other GOP officials. The investigator's report notes that Hellon thought the ad was "really sleazy" and "was offended that his party would do something like that."
When Hellon asked Pullen about the ad, Pullen reportedly told him that "there were some supporters of Joe Arpaio who gave us some money, and that is what they wanted us to do with it."
Hellon told investigators that a few days later, he heard from a friend that Ash had told an Arizona Capitol Times reporter that the money was given to the party in exchange for a guarantee that it would be used to run the Saban-trashing ad.
"Hellon phoned Bruce Ash and told him that he had better shut up, because he just told the media that the state party is guilty of a felony," according to Edwards' report.
These days, it appears that Ash is taking Hellon's advice: He did not return a phone call from The Skinny.
Republican Ron Asta recently ran a TV ad asking whether he should stay in this year's mayor's race, in light of a 1994 traffic collision in which he failed to yield. A young woman was killed in the accident.
Asta says he got about 100 messages from people telling him to drop out, and about 30 telling him he should stay in the race—so he's staying in.
"I'm continuing my campaign for mayor because Tucson needs leadership and debate now," Asta announced in a press release. "Tucson's priorities need to be about jobs and developing an economy with a heartbeat, better police and fire response times, streets we can be proud of, and a balanced budget."
Unfortunately, those first three priorities kind of conflict with the fourth.
Meanwhile, because sometimes we like to put a halt to rumors rather than spread them: Brian Delfs, a city of Tucson firefighter and union official, tells The Skinny that he's not going to be running for mayor this year on the Republican ticket.
"The timing isn't right," says Delfs, who doesn't rule out a political run down the road.
Republican Shaun McClusky and Democrat Jonathan Rothschild are also seeking the mayor's seat as incumbent Mayor Bob Walkup retires.
SET YOUR TIVO
Your Skinny scribe, Jim Nintzel, will be discussing the recently wrapped legislative session on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Week, which airs at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, and at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.
Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel