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Arizona Lobbyists, Lawmakers Continue Fundraising Tradition Amid The Pandemic

Lobbyists are prohibited by law from making campaign contributions to Arizona legislators during the legislative session. As a result, the final days before the start of each session in January have come to be known as “Hell Week” — a mad dash of fundraising events, hosted by lobbyists for lawmakers, that’s a sort of “hell” for lobbyists’ checkbooks.

The pandemic hasn’t halted plans for similar fundraisers in 2021, before the next legislative session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 11. 

Copies of two fundraising invitations, sent by Dorn Policy Group, showcase events held on behalf of top legislative Republicans and Democrats.

Tom Dorn, president of Dorn Policy Group, confirmed that his firm is planning to host several fundraisers that week as they traditionally would, including two events that list Republican Senate President Karen Fann, Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers, and Democratic minority leaders Rebecca Rios and Reginald Bolding as attendees, among other lawmakers.

“At this point in time, both Democrats and Republicans have indicated that they're willing to try to make a go of it and see if we can host these receptions in a responsible, socially distant manner,” Dorn said.

Those events will be held at Phoenix-based restaurants outside, with social distancing measures in place, he added. The food that’s served will be individually wrapped.

Anyone who chooses not to attend will have the option of making contributions virtually, Dorn said.

“As we sit here in December, we hope to have them in person. Of course, it's always subject to change to where we would cancel them or have a virtual reception,” he said.

Bolding, the top Democrat in the House, told KJZZ it was his understanding the event listing Democrats as honorees would be virtual. Bolding said he would call back to confirm that, but never did.

Democrats have at times been critical of Gov. Doug Ducey’s emergency orders during the pandemic. 

As the coronavirus outbreak in Arizona has worsened, Ducey’s health officials have altered COVID-19 benchmarks that previously would have shown the spread of the virus is substantial enough to require businesses to close.

Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) said if the Legislature is going to conduct a session, lawmakers must be able to meet with people, and will do their best to “safely keep things moving.”

“We can’t, you know, go into a cellar and hide and not talk to constituents,” he said. “And in this case, it’s mostly lobbyists. But every one of those lobbyists represent a constituent. So I intend to keep meeting with everybody.”

Calls to other legislative leaders about their attendance were not returned.

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.