John Junker Pleads Guilty to Using Fiesta Bowl to Front Illegal Campaign Contributions

John JunkerWho? What? For folks who don’t know much about football or just don’t care (like us), the Fiesta Bowl is one of those college football games with a parade and a lot of other whoop-de-do-ing around it. That’s about all non-sports fanatics (like us) really to know to make sense of this story of Republican corruption.

John Junker, the guy you see here (who does look kind of surprised all the time, and, no, we don’t know if he ever wore anything other than that screaming canary-yellow jacket, which has a big, bright, orange and yellow flowery-thing on the pocket, the symbol of The Big Event) was the Fiesta Bowl’s chief executive officer — the head honcho, the big enchilada… or perhaps The Big Tostito, since the game and all the whoop-do-doing around it is officially the “Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.” (We’ll try not to hold that against Frito-Lay.)

“The news that Republican lobbyists turned the Fiesta Bowl into a front for funneling illegal campaign contributions to Republican politicians should outrage and disgust every Arizonan. This is not about a football game. What the reports reveal is that there is a deep, pervasive culture of corruption in our state government.

“This culture of corruption — driven by greed and political ambition — breeds cynicism and distrust. It results in a government where these highly-paid lobbyists and the politicians in their pockets focus on handing out special favors without lifting a finger to create jobs. This scandal is what happens when a small group of people from one political party hold too much power for too long. But Arizonans are learning the truth about these politicians, and their days are numbered.

“These politicians may not have known about the illegal money coming from the Fiesta Bowl and its employees, but now the truth is out. I call upon every elected official of either party to immediately return every cent in campaign contributions they received from the corrupt Fiesta Bowl organization.”

— Andrei Cherny
Chair, Arizona Democratic Party
March 30, 2011

“Was”? Yeah. He got fired last year.

What did he do? While the language is a little drier than some of the more colorful summaries, we’ll go with the short-and-sweet press release issued today by the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office:

Ex-Fiesta Bowl Chief Pleads Guilty to Federal Charge

PHOENIX — The former executive director of the Fiesta Bowl has admitted his role in the making of illegal federal campaign contributions by the bowl. John Junker, 56, of Phoenix, pleaded guilty on March 13, 2012 to one count of conspiracy in federal district court in Phoenix. Junker was executive director from 1990 until 2011.

Junker admitted that while serving as the Fiesta Bowl’s executive director, he conspired with others to solicit political campaign contributions from Fiesta Bowl employees and to later reimburse those employees in the guise of employee bonuses. Although Junker acknowledged that he knew that making campaign contributions in the name of others was illegal, he nonetheless instructed Natalie Wisneski, the Fiesta Bowl’s chief operating officer, to use bonuses to reimburse employees for their contributions. Wisneski is set to enter a guilty plea in federal court on March 15, 2012.

Junker acknowledged directing reimbursement of approximately $25,000 in contributions made to federal election campaigns between 2006 and 2009, and additional amounts made to the campaigns of state and local candidates. Tax returns were filed with the IRS for the 2007 and 2008 tax years, which falsely reported that the not-for-profit Fiesta Bowl made no contributions to political campaigns and engaged in no lobbying activities. Junker admitted that he authorized these filings knowing that they contained false statements.

Junker is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge David G. Campbell on May 21, 2012.

A conviction for conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. The plea agreement provides that Junker’s sentence will not exceed two years. In determining an actual sentence, the court will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. Judge Campbell, however, is not bound by the guidelines in determining a sentence.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations. The prosecution is being handled by Frank T. Galati, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Phoenix.

Who got the illegal contributions? Republicans, mostly (of course), and a few Dems. Here’s one list, from the Phoenix New Times:

Republican state Senator Carolyn Allen, the Arizona Republican Party, AZ Wins, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Governor Jan Brewer, state Senator Scott Bundgaard, one-time candidate for treasurer Ted Carpenter, former state Senator Christopher Cummiskey, Congressman Jeff Flake, former state Representative Mike Gardner, former TV pitchman JD Hayworth, former state Representative Laura Knaperek, Maricopa County Supervisor Andrew Kunasek, Senator Jon Kyl, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane, former Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross, Phil Martin, Senator John McCain, former Congressman Harry Mitchell, Navarro for City Council, Senator Russell Pearce, Pete Rios, former Congressman John Shadegg, state Representative James Weiers, and Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.

While we agree with PNT’s James King when he writes, “We won’t argue that there a ‘culture of corruption’ in Arizona’s state and local governments, we’d just say it’s not exclusive to one particular political party,” we agree more with these readers commenting on this article from the following day, in which King again tries to take some of the heat off Arizona Republicans, chiding Arizona Dem Party chair Andrei Cherny for failing to name the four Democrats (Wilcox, Mitchell, Navarro, and Cummiskey) among the recipients of illegal contributions and complaining that only “(in passing) Cherny calls on members of ‘either’ political party to return the money they received from the ‘corrupt Fiesta Bowl organization’”:

“It is the local GOP’s fault only because they, mostly, have created the atmosphere of corruption here. The GOP movers and shakers in this valley do not even pause in their greed and disregard for the rule of law any longer, they are so comfortable in it. Oh and senate president, Pearce, needs to step down in that role, but he will not.”

Blumenthal Explains It All
Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party by Max Blumenthal

“it is not about ‘only Republicans,’ it is about which party is in charge. Republicans have been calling the shots and this scandal is Republican lobbyists using the Fiesta Bowl as a front to give out campaign contributions almost entirely to Republicans. Some Democrats got caught up and that’s wrong, but it’s not the same thing as the corruption of absolute power.”

“‘In passing’??? How is it in passing when the action statement from Cherny is: ‘I call upon every elected official of either party to immediately return every cent in campaign contributions they received from the corrupt Fiesta Bowl organization.’ And it is the LAST sentence of the statement. Not like he buries it in there. I think that it is pretty admirable for the Ds to get out in front of this and repudiate the corruption–on whatever side it was on. I’m now waiting for Pearce’s Republican party (who were the vast majority of the recipients) to say ANYTHING about what they’re going to do.”

As for Junker hmself, the legal campaign contributions he’s made in his own name make one thing absolutely clear: Junker is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican.

Too bad for Junker he didn’t know Citizens United was coming — he could have poured all the money he wanted into the GOP machine. Yeah… too bad.

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Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | Permalink | Trackback

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