Senate President Karen Fann and the Senate GOP spokeswoman violated Arizona laws barring the use of government resources for political activity when they sent a press release calling on voters to “unite behind (Kari) Lake” in the governor’s race.
Hours later, in the face of intense criticism that the statement broke state law, the Senate retracted the statement and insisted it was “accidentally” distributed through the Senate instead of Fann’s campaign. How that happened is unclear, and neither Fann nor Senate Republican spokeswoman Kim Quintero responded to questions from the Arizona Mirror.
The lengthy statement, which was issued on the Senate’s letterhead featuring the official state seal, bashed Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee who will be Lake’s opponent in November, calling her “an extension of the Biden Administration” and “a dangerous choice for Arizona Governor.”
Any choice for governor other than Lake, Fann said in the statement, “will put our state in a detrimental position.”
Fann’s statement was sent to the media by Quintero shortly after 6 a.m. Friday, and was subsequently posted on the Senate GOP caucus’ official Twitter page.
It immediately sparked outrage, with Democrats and others decrying it for clearly violating Arizona law that prohibits politicking with public resources.
Joe Wolf, a spokesman for Hobbs’ campaign, told the Mirror that Fann is the latest in a long line of Republicans who have decided they don’t need to follow the law.
“President Fann purposely used taxpayer resources to support a candidate for office, Kari Lake, continuing a culture of disregard for our laws,” he said. “Be it Fann or Kari Lake, these MAGA candidates act with an appalling disregard for the law. This is yet another reason why we need leaders like Katie Hobbs who hold themselves accountable and have respect for the laws of the state.”
Valley attorney Tom Ryan said the statement was “a clear-cut” violation of a state law commonly referred to as Arizona’s Hatch Act, a nod to the federal law that bars federal government employees from politicking on the taxpayer dime.
Ryan emailed Fann and Quintero several hours after the statement was issued, demanding they retract it. In the email he shared with the Mirror, he noted that “failure to do so could lead to penalties being assessed against each of you up to $5,000 for this violation including the cost of the value of the public resources used in committing this violation.”
About 35 minutes later, Quintero issued a retraction and deleted the statement from the Senate GOP’s Twitter page. “The statement was accidentally sent from our official Senate email,” she wrote in a note to the media.
Ryan said he was glad that the press release was retracted but scoffed at the explanation.
“Accidental? My sweet Irish a**,” he said.
State Sen. Rebecca Rios, a Phoenix Democrat, and the Senate Democratic leader, said Fann’s decision to issue that statement through the Senate, and not on her own or through her campaign, was “shocking.”
“It’s a disgrace on our institution,” she said. “This is not Karen Fann’s personal slush fund, but that’s how she’s been treating it.”
Rios also questioned the explanation that it was inadvertently sent through the Senate’s official channels and said it raises troubling questions about Quintero doing political work in her capacity as the Senate’s spokeswoman.
“How did she accidentally write this? She shouldn’t have been involved in any of this,” Rios said.
The Mirror asked Quintero to explain her role in crafting the statement — spokespeople often are directly involved in writing statements from elected officials — but she did not respond to questions.
Other questions that Quintero and Fann did not respond to include whether Senate attorneys had approved the statement before sending it, whether any legal advice was sought before the press release was issued and why Fann didn’t use her personal or campaign platforms to make the statement.
In 2019, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office fined 28 public officials for breaking the same law because they used government resources to campaign against a clean-energy ballot measure in 2018.