Despite a federal investigation into possible on-the-job politicking, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu put out two ads last week that feature six employees speaking on his behalf
In each of the ads, a female narrator's voice introduces six different speakers by saying, "Listen to what the voters are saying about Paul Babeu." The speakers then appear one at a time, and none of them is individually identified or wearing a uniform.
Two Pinal County Sheriff's Office employees, community outreach director Cheryl Chase and Commander Jayme Valenzuela, appear in both ads. A total of 10 separate people appear in the two ads, each of them making a short statement about Babeu.
Commander Ruben Montaño says in one of the ads, "Paul has always been a strong conservative. He would fight hard for our principles."
The other employees appearing in the ads are Lt. Wayne Cashman, Lt. Jason Villegas and Deputy Hank Mueller. Cashman and Villegas were promoted by Babeu last year.
The federal Office of Special Counsel has been investigating Babeu and his office to see whether anyone has violated the Hatch Act. That law prohibits federal employees and local public employees whose duties are paid for in part by the federal government, from political activities while on the job.
The special counsel investigation apparently is looking into whether employees, specifically including Chase, did work for Babeu's campaign, or that of his deputy chief, Steve Henry, while on the county's clock. Henry has preliminarily announced his run for sheriff to replace Babeu, who is running for the Republican nomination for Congress in the new Congressional District 4.
A spokeswoman for the federal agency, Ann O'Hanlon, would not confirm the investigation, which was revealed in requests for information sent by her agency to Pinal County. But Monday she said, "If you're covered by the Hatch Act, you cannot require that your subordinates be part of a campaign."
Chris DeRose, the consultant running Babeu's campaign, said the employees who appeared in the ads did so voluntarily.
"There's nothing wrong with having people who worked with you coming forward and exercising their First Amendment rights on your behalf," DeRose said. "These ads are personal testimony from people who know him well."
But O'Hanlon said the situation poses problematic questions.
"If they're subordinate, there's no simple test for distinguishing what is their desire from what the employer wants," O'Hanlon said.
Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or firstname.lastname@example.org