No competitive bid process, no conflict vetting, association with checkered efforts – all at considerable expense to Arizona Taxpayers
On June 19, the day that our attorney, Dan Barr, sent a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) demanding access to former Chairman Bob Stump’s cell phone, ACC Executive Director Jodi Jerich fired long-time Commission spokesperson Rebecca Wilder.
Rather than comply with our public records request and allow downloading of Stump’s text messages to determine whether not Stump had engaged in illegal electioneering, Stump and the Commission had decided to fight, at considerable expense to Arizona taxpayers
PR Consultant Barrett Marson Hired
Five days later, the ACC hired Barrett Marson to serve as the ACC’s PR consultant at $7,500 per month.
According to records obtained by the Checks and Balances Project show there was no competitive bid process to make sure taxpayers got the best deal on the contract. There is no indication of an effort to ensure Marson had no conflicts of interest. The expensive hiring of Marson raises questions about why he was selected.
Marson is a minor celebrity in Arizona GOP circles. Since October 2013, he has co-hosted “Copper Talk,” a political podcast series. His first interview was with former Arizona Treasurer, now Governor, Doug Ducey. Barrett is a former journalist and director of communications for the Arizona House of Representatives and Dept. of Corrections where, according to his website bio, he “attended four executions.”
Minutes before our deadline, the Commission’s outside counsel David Cantelme, hired at a rate of $300 an hour, let it be known that the Commission had changed tactics. Their new plan was to choose a retired judge and a state police forensic expert to download Stump’s phone, then decide whether any of the texts are public records. The plan backfired when both the state police and Phoenix police refused to get involved.
Meanwhile, Marson wasted little time, directing an elaborate diversionary campaign to take people’s eyes off the unfulfilled public records request.
Ties That Bind
It’s worth noting that Marson has past connections to Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s powerful chief of staff, Kirk Adams, through the dark money electoral nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership, where Marson was spokesman.
Graham, in the news last week for standing behind a county Republican Party executive who Donald Trump fired as his state director due to racist and religious slurs, was founding chairman of ARL and a director until becoming Arizona GOP chairman in February 2013. The Arizona GOP issued the infamous “Who Is Dan Barr?” attack video, and, according to Graham, created blog posts, a website, and a social media campaign attacking C&BP and defending Stump.
Gov. Ducey’s Chief of Staff Kirk Adams was president of Americans for Responsible Leadership in 2012 and 2013. A former Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, where he worked with Marson, he also founded Prosper Inc., a 501c (4) non-profit that that received money from Arizona Public Service (APS) to fight net-metering.
The $1 Million California Fine
In October 2013, — while Graham, Adams, and Marson were all associates – the California Fair Political Practices Commission and California Attorney General announced a fine of $1 million – the largest in California history – for an $11 million campaign finance money-laundering violation against Americans for Responsible Leadership and Center to Protect Patient Rights. The illegal contribution was to the Small Business Action Committee. The Center was a front group run by Sean Noble, with whom Stump texted in a burst prior to the August 26, 2014 GOP primary. Almost all of the money has been traced to billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch.
Said Marson, called a “dark-money spinmeister”at the time by the Arizona Republic, “There was no intent to skirt or deceive California officials.”
Kirk Adams called the largest campaign money-laundering violation in California history “a big old nothing-burger.”
ACC is Still Accountable to Arizonans
Marson might have been the best-qualified, lowest-cost service provider the Commission could have hired. But without a competitive bid process and conflict vetting, we are left with only the questions about why he was hired so quickly and with so little screen on his qualifications, pricing, and conflicts.
If Commissioner Stump would have simply fulfilled his legal responsibility to provide the text message records in which he conducted public business – or if Chairman Susan Bitter Smith would have investigated – Arizonans would have been saved tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary contractor expenses.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.