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'Ripe for abuse': Hobbs offered dark money VIP packages to businesses, special interests at her inauguration

Although it is common for businesses and special interests to make donations to help pay for inauguration festivities the campaign did not release amounts.

PHOENIX — Thursday’s inauguration of Governor Katie Hobbs represented a new day in Arizona. 

It also reminded voters of an old problem: dark money.

It is common for businesses and special interests to make donations to help pay for inauguration festivities in Arizona (they save taxpayers from footing the bill).

But the Hobbs campaign did not release donation amounts from lobbyists, corporations and special interests to the public.

The campaign manager for Governor Hobbs offered prospective donors a package with 25 seats to Thursday’s event, along with mementos of the occasion, for a donation of $250,000. Donations were also solicited for an inaugural ball to be held on Saturday.

The governor’s office publicized more than 120 inauguration donors on its website. However, it did not identify how much money each donor gave. The campaign and the governor’s office also did not reveal how much money was raised, and how much may be left over for further political purposes after inauguration events are funded.

“Inaugural funds, if they are not regulated, are ripe for abuse,” said Aaron McKean, counsel for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group that advocates for transparency in democracy and Americans’ influence on the democratic process.

McKean said California and New Mexico are two states that have taken modest steps to address inaugural fundraising. In California, donations for inaugurals are treated as regular campaign contributions. In New Mexico, the governor voluntarily adopted limits on inaugural donations. 

He said there have been instances in which it is apparent that large inauguration donations influenced an elected leader’s policies.

“It’s an opportunity for folks like lobbyists and contractors and other folks who have business before the government to give a lot of money and try to influence those officials,” McKean said.

During the last inauguration of Gov. Doug Ducey, inauguration fund contributions were limited to $25,000 and were publicized.

While campaigning for secretary of state and governor, Hobbs advocated for transparency and pledged to fight the role of dark money in political campaigns.

A written statement provided by a spokesperson for Governor Hobbs said, in part, “The inaugural events have historically always been organized by a third party and are outside the scope of the office of the governor… the governor maintains her commitment to transparency and accountability in the administration.”

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