In July, the Arizona State University came under scrutiny for spending “exorbitantly on lobbying efforts.” On Monday, Arizona lawmakers announced the Foundation was picking up the tab for their visit to Mexico.
Representatives Tony Rivero and Rosanna Gabaldón announced that a bipartisan legislative delegation will visit Mexico this week to “promote trade and cooperation between Arizona and Mexico.”
Legislators and business interests hope to “continue their productive dialogue with Mexico during a trade mission to Mexico City and Guanajuato.”
The trip includes: JD Mesnard, John Allen, Rebecca Rios, Tony Rivero, Rosanna Gabaldon, Cesar Chavez, Drew John, Todd Cloddfelter, Becky Nutt, David Cook, Mark Cardenas, Regina Cobb, Noel Campbell, David Stringer, Ray Martinez, Don Shooter, Michelle Ugenti-Rita, Ben Toma, Macario Saldate, Diego Espinoza, Jamescita Peshlakai, Catherine Miranda, Jill Norgaard, Paul Mosley, Maria Syms, and Rusty Bowers.
The legislative delegation includes 26 members of the Arizona House and Senate and organizations such as Chicanos por la Causa, Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Global Chamber, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Molera-Alvarez, University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and the Morrison Institute, as well as Rocky Point Mayor Kiko Munro and Vice-Chairman Verlon Jose of the Tohono O’odham Nation.
The Foundation invited legislators to bring family members.
On Tuesday, Rep. David Cook, who can be counted on to support corporate welfare projects, told Facebook friends: “I am honored to be chosen as one of the AZ Representatives to attend the bi-partisan trade mission to Mexico today.”
According to Matthew Specht, Director of Communications for House Republicans, “Members that expressed interest in the trip were invited.”
One legislator, who declined the invitation, described the trip has nothing more than a “free vacation.”
According to an article in the Arizona Daily Independent by Charles T. Clark with the Arizona Center For Investigative Reporting, “Over the past decade the ASU Foundation for a New American University, the nonprofit fundraising arm of Arizona State University, has brought in revenues upwards of $100 million per year and given more than $60 million in grants annually back to the university.”
“AZCIR’s review of ASU Foundation’s tax filings also found that its lobbying expenses are several times greater than those made by other public university foundations and there are few records indicating who had been hired to lobby during that period, who the target of the influence was and on what matters,” reported Clark.
Clark found that in the last 5 years, the “ASU Foundation has spent nearly $1.4 million on lobbying activities, topping out at $424,780 in 2015-2016. By law, that it is perfectly justifiable, said Gorovitz, the San Francisco attorney who advises nonprofits, because it is allowed to spend up to $1 million on lobbying annually.
“On its tax returns, ASU Foundation states that it engages in lobbying practices that “contribute to public communication and advocacy activities that support higher education in Arizona and the need for adequate funding to provide excellent educational opportunities for Arizona residents,” wrote Clark. “However, there are scant records indicating who ASU Foundation paid to lobby on its behalf, who was lobbied and what was lobbied for.”
According Clark, Sybil Francis, the wife of ASU President Michael Crow, is a board member of the Foundation and “has been paid more than $830,000 for her work” since 2012. Clark wrote that the Foundation chose “to disclose her salary in an obscure section of the tax return that details payments to people with ties to board members instead of listing her among the organization’s highest-paid employees.”
“Trade with Mexico plays a vital role in growing Arizona’s economy and employing thousands on both sides of the border,” said United States Senator Jeff Flake in a press release from Arizona House Republicans. “It is imperative that leaders from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border maintain open discussions on trade issues, and I wholeheartedly support efforts to reinforce pro-growth trade policies.”
“I applaud Rep. Rivero and Rep. Gabaldón for leading this important delegation, and I thank Speaker Mesnard for lending the trade mission the House’s full support,” said Glenn Hamer, President and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the same press release. “We’re right in the middle of renegotiating the globe’s most consequential trade agreement. NAFTA is essential to our nation’s prosperity and has proven central to Arizona’s growth over the last nearly 25 years. Trade missions like these are so important because they allow face-toface (sic) interactions between lawmakers on both sides of the border to understand one another’s unique concerns, which I believe will help lead not only to a modernized NAFTA built for today’s economy, but will lead to policies in the future that will benefit both countries. I am looking forward to what I am sure will be a very productive trip.”
On its tax returns, ASU Foundation states that it engages in lobbying practices that “contribute to public communication and advocacy activities that support higher education in Arizona and the need for adequate funding to provide excellent educational opportunities for Arizona residents.”
However, there are scant records indicating who ASU Foundation paid to lobby on its behalf, who was lobbied and what was lobbied for.
Federal lobbying records maintained by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives show that ASU Foundation has not lobbied in Congress. State records show that ASU Foundation did not begin lobbying state legislators until February of this year, when it hired the public affairs firm Veridus to represent it at the State Capitol.
Veridus partner Wendy Briggs would not comment on her firm’s work and referred all questions to the ASU Foundation. However, legislative records show that the only bill ASU Enterprise Partners took a position on, via Briggs, was a budget bill that provided the universities with infrastructure funding.
As the ADI reported in May, Speaker of the House JD Mesnard worked with Governor Doug Ducey to pass the university infrastructure bonding bill in a late-night session. “Arizona legislators approved a controversial measure that allow the State’s universities to bond during Thursday’s late night session,” reported the ADI. “Both chambers approved the measure after considerable arm twisting deal making with the Republican holdouts.”
“The bonding measure was, according to one lawmaker who voted for it, a get-Governor-Ducey-re-elected scheme,” according to ADI’s report.
Some Republicans only held out in order to cut deals. Deals included a tax cut, and more money for the Koch brothers’ freedom schools.
Editor’s note: The ASU Foundation disputes the claim that it is funding the trip. Bret Hovell, Associate Vice President, ASU Office of Media Relations and Strategic Communications reports that the trip was paid for “by private donations for the non-partisan Arizona Legislative Academy, which he says is an educational course for newly-elected members of the state legislature.” According to its website, the Arizona Legislative Academy is facilitated by the Arizona State University College of Public Service & Community Solutions and ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
According to the Arizona Daily Star, the Arizona Legislative Academy, which paid for the Legislator’s trip to Mexico, is a new program at ASU that “was founded by former House Speaker and current Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin, who takes a $100,000 salary, from money he’s raised for the program.”
The Foundation also released the following statement regrading Dr. Sybil Francis:
“Dr. Sybil Francis has been employed by the Foundation for more than 14 years, which has been reported in the past by media, in multiple Form 990s and in promotional materials and websites. Her experience and work as executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona and director of strategic advancement at the ASU Foundation directly contributes to our mission of advancing higher education in the state. It’s disappointing facts and context were missing in prior reporting, which creates a misrepresentation of reality.”