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Fri, April 19

Steiger targets pay for state aides working on Prop. 301

PHOENIX — Challenging what he calls an illegal expenditure of tax dollars, Prescott Mayor Sam Steiger is demanding that two aides to Gov. Jane Hull stop working on state time on the Proposition 301 campaign.

Steiger, who is a former congressman, on Wednesday asked Attorney General Janet Napolitano to stop the practice and to recover money the state paid to the aides while they worked on the campaign for a sales-tax increase for education.

Steiger said the payments are illegal under provisions in the Arizona Constitution and state laws barring unauthorized expenditures or gifts of public money.

If Napolitano does not act within 60 days, Steiger said he will go to court under a state law authorizing individual citizens to step in as a "private attorney general."

"It is essential that illegal contributions of public moneys to the Education 2000 campaign be stopped immediately so as to avoid corruption of the electoral process," Steiger's lawyer, Lisa Hauser, wrote to Napolitano.

This is not the first time Steiger has gone after an elected state official for spending public money on something he believed to be illegal.

In 1999, he won a court judgment finding that former Attorney General Grant Woods and a former top deputy were not entitled to have taxpayers pay for legal work done on their behalf during a criminal probe.

Steiger's letter came one week after the Tribune, a newspaper serving suburban Phoenix, reported that several Hull aides were working on behalf of ballot measures.

Much of the story focused on Hull adviser and lobbyist Jaime Molera and education adviser Christy Anderson drawing their state salaries of $95,000 and $60,000, respectively, while working on the Prop. 301 campaign.

Hull told the Tribune that the aides' work on behalf of the proposition was state business because they were trying to implement her policy agenda.

Hull spokeswoman Francie Noyes said Wednesday that the governor was confident that the arrangement was legal but that she planned to consult with Napolitano's office to ensure the staff is protected.

"We'll see what they say and we'll go from there," Noyes said.

Noyes also said Hull viewed Steiger's request "as an effort to hurt the Education 2000 campaign."

Napolitano spokeswoman Pati Urias said Wednesday the office had no immediate response to Steiger's request.

Urias said in the Sept. 26 Tribune story that state law did not prohibit members of the governor's staff, or any other exempt state employee, from working on an initiative or referendum at state expense.

Urias told the Tribune that there was no difference between Molera lobbying the Legislature and lobbying the public.

Molera defended his campaign role as "working on my job" and said Steiger's request was an attempt by Proposition 301 opponents to derail it.

"They can try to play these kinds of games (but) the public understands that schools are last in funding and they're sick of it," Molera said.

Hauser's letter said those involved could find themselves personally liable for any public money mis-spent, a 20 percent penalty and interest.

Hauser did not specify how much money Steiger thinks should be repaid, but Molera said he has been working full-time on the ballot measure since late June.

Hauser, who served as legal counsel to former Gov. Fife Symington, has said Hull's predecessors required gubernatorial aides who worked on initiative or referendum campaigns to do so on their own time.

Since the Tribune story was published, former Symington Chief of Staff Jay Heiler has said he and other Symington aides worked on an initiative campaign, a 1996 Symington-backed measure on juvenile justice, while on the state payroll.

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