Proposal to reimburse Pearce for Arizona recall election's campaign costs stirs controversy

PAUL DAVENPORT Associated Press
First Posted: April 30, 2012 - 6:10 pm
Last Updated: April 30, 2012 - 6:12 pm
The Republic

PHOENIX Republican legislators who support Russell Pearce want the state to reimburse the former state senator for some or all of the nearly $262,000 he spent campaigning for the November recall election that resulted in his ouster from office.

Critics of Pearce, a nationally known champion of Arizona measures against illegal immigration, responded by calling the idea outrageous, and it was far from assured that it would gain traction among enough lawmakers to secure approval.

The Arizona Constitution provides for payment of officials' reasonable expenses for recall elections, but there's no state law on the books to do that or to define what's reasonable.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said the first thing that needs to happen is to pass such a law and determine what's reasonable.

"But for the recall election, Russell Pearce would not have had to raise money. He would not have had to (spend) money, so these were all expenses," said Biggs, a Pearce supporter. "The question is what's reasonable and what's not reasonable."

Biggs said the reimbursement measure would be separate from a new state budget now under consideration as lawmakers press to end their 2012 legislative session by later this week.

Pearce was the chief sponsor of the immigration enforcement law known as SB1070, which is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court, as well an earlier law that punishes employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

A fellow Republican, charter school executive Jerry Lewis, defeated Pearce in the November recall election in their Mesa legislative district.

Most of Pearce's campaign spending came from donations, but a portion was money that Pearce transferred from his regular campaign committee.

"There's no way we should be funding anybody's recall campaign from taxpayer dollars," said Randy Parraz, a Democratic activist who was one of the leaders of the drive that collected voter signatures to force the election to be held.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said Pearce's former legislative colleagues "are wanting to reward him for his bad behavior and for being a bad legislator."

The Arizona Capitol Times first reported the push among some legislators to pay Pearce for his election costs, and the ex-lawmaker told the newspaper that he would consider accepting the money if the Legislature approved such a payment.

"They have a duty to offer it," he said. "Whether I take it or not is another issue, but they have a duty to offer it. The Constitution requires it."

Pearce is running for re-election to the Senate. However, with redistricting, Lewis is running for re-election in what will be an adjacent district.

Tom Ryan, a lawyer who represented the pro-recall group, said there are apparently no constraints on what Pearce could do with reimbursement money.

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