DALLAS — A political fundraising scandal, including efforts to influence construction of the bond-financed University of Phoenix National Football League stadium, could cost Arizona’s Fiesta Bowl its nonprofit status and its ranking as one of the top four collegiate Bowl Championship Series games, according to an investigative report.
Following a five-month internal investigation, the Fiesta Bowl fired its longtime chief executive John Junker and accepted the resignations of two other top officers.
A 284-page report commissioned by a special committee last October detailed excessive spending on employees, politicians, and business associates.
The donations to political candidates, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, and state Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, violate rules barring the nonprofit organization from using its money to benefit individuals. The contributions could also violate state and federal campaign laws.
There has been no indication that the Internal Revenue Service is investigating the organization’s tax-exempt status.
In addition to the original violations, the committees involved in the bowl appear to have engaged in a cover-up prompted by a 2009 article in the Arizona Republic that first described the illegal campaign contributions.
In response to the story, Junker categorically denied reimbursing employees for making political contributions.
An investigation by former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods reported that there was nothing to the allegations.
However, another probe was ordered. That investigation resulted in the latest report that quotes several employees admitting they were told to donate to political candidates and causes for which they were later reimbursed.
After the investigation was completed, Junker admitted that gifts, trips, and campaign fundraisers were intended to influence leaders who could provide helpful legislation, secure a new stadium, or ensure network contracts.
Among the trips the bowl financed was one October 2005 for Pearce, other lawmakers, and their guests to Chicago. The bowl spent $18,454. Another trip for Pearce, other lawmakers, and lobbyists to Boston in October 2008 cost $65,000.
Bowl employees were required to give political donations to candidates and causes they did not support, according to the report. The beneficiaries were primarily Republicans.
Some of Junker’s pet causes such as anti-abortion organizations also received donations, the report said.
Junker told investigators that the reason that the University of Phoenix stadium was built in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale was because the Fiesta Bowl put its support behind the project.
The stadium, completed in 2006 at a cost of $455 million, was financed with $305 million of revenue bonds issued by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority. The stadium is home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals as well as the Fiesta Bowl. Every four years, the Fiesta Bowl hosts the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s national championship game.
The stadium is adjacent to the $180 million Jobing.com Arena, built with revenue bonds by Glendale as the home of the Phoenix Coyotes National Hockey League team. The city is currently seeking a way to keep the Coyotes in Arizona.
The NCAA told the Republic newspaper that the scandal is a serious matter and will be investigated.
The Fiesta Bowl, based in Scottsdale, is operated through four nonprofit organizations — the Arizona Sports Foundation, Fiesta Events, the Valley of the Sun Bowl Foundation, and the Arizona College Football Championship Foundation.