Prosecutors won’t bring charges against former House Speaker David Gowan for getting more than $12,000 in taxpayer funds for time and travel spent during his ill-fated campaign for Congress.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich said his attorneys and investigators found “a lot of questionable, even I would say unethical behavior” in the actions of Gowan. These included multiple trips that Gowan took around the state in 2016 while running for Congress — many far from his legislative district — while saying he was on state business, a claim that enabled him to get reimbursed by the state for his expenses.
And Brnovich said staffers found multiple uses of a state vehicle for what appear to be personal purposes.
“But it did not rise to the level of criminal conduct,” he said, because there is insufficient proof that Gowan had both actual criminal intent as well as knowledge of the laws that were being broken. And that, Brnovich said, ends the matter.
“At the end of the day as a prosecutor your job is not to win at all costs,” he said.
“It’s not to throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks,” Brnovich continued. “If there’s not a reasonable likelihood of conviction, you don’t move forward on a case.”
But Brnovich sidestepped the question of whether he believes that Gowan’s conduct clearly was unethical.
“I believe that the facts in this case speak for themselves,” he said.
“I do think that when you’re a public official it’s very, very important to avoid any sort of appearance of impropriety,” the attorney general continued. “I will leave it to the people to make their own judgments.”
Despite the lack of any prosecution, the investigation has had positive effects.
Even before the probe started, Gowan reimbursed the state more than $12,000, saying that it was simply an error that he got all that money.
And Brnovich pointed out that, even as investigators were reviewing evidence against Gowan, current House Speaker J.D. Mesnard enacted new travel restrictions on members, a move he said he took specifically in reaction to the problems with Gowan’s travel.
That new policy limits when lawmakers can charge mileage to the state for trips to the Capitol and around their legislative districts. Mesnard said the rules, coupled with public disclosure, should prevent abuse.
And Mesnard has pretty much made the use of state “fleet vehicles” off-limits to House members, saying that should be reserved only for the most limited of circumstances.
In a prepared statement, Gowan said the findings back his claim that “mistakes were made but any errors were unintentional and that no laws were broken.” But he took a shot at those who were critical of his practices, calling them “a handful of opportunists looking to settle a political score or score political points.”
Gowan eventually dropped out of the 2016 congressional race. But he is seeking a political comeback of sorts: He already has filed paperwork to run for the state Senate from his Southeastern Arizona legislative district.
It was Gowan, a Sierra Vista Republican, who initially sought the probe after the Arizona Capitol Times reported on his travels in early 2016.
He called them “errors and nothing more,” saying there was no “nefarious intent, despite the cynicism that pervades some of the newspaper accounts.”
Assistant Attorney General Todd Lawson who headed the investigation, said Gowan himself precipitated some of the problems in 2015, changing policy to allow some members of House leadership of both parties to claim expenses for as many days as they wanted. That was a sharp change from before where such expenses were limited to twice a week when the Legislature was not in session.
“Now the per diem pay for members of leadership was at their control — they could set up meetings each day, and get additional pay,”Lawson wrote.
“In this case, Gowan began to schedule a large number of ‘official’ activities well beyond the boundaries of his Southeastern Arizona district,” the report says. He said Gowan argued that it was justified “because, as speaker of the House he was a representative of all of the state.”
But Lawson said it was not that simple.
“This change coincided with Gowan’s decision to seek a congressional seat in a district that largely did not overlap with his legislative district’s boundaries,” he reported. “The change permitted him to spend significantly more days traveling to locations across the state on official business — trips for which he would seek reimbursement.”
Still, Lawson said it was a staffer who “felt that she needed to submit the reimbursement forms” despite not having good communication with Gowan.
“This does not meet the standard for criminal intent,” the attorney wrote.
Lawson found similar problems in investigating Gowan’s claims for travel reimbursement, saying these, too, were submitted by a staffer.
And Lawson said Gowan’s calendars, provided to investigators, were unclear in which events were for political purposes and which were in his official capacity.
“There is only one clear allegation of a political event where Gowan arrived in a state vehicle — a political event in SaddleBrooke on Oct. 14, 2015,” the report states. “To file a charge based upon this allegation, additional corroboration would be needed — and that corroboration has not been found by investigators.”
Lawson did find some other incidents, like when Gowan arrived at a Flagstaff radio station to talk about policy matters. Gowan said it was the host who asked him about his political campaign, which he answered.
“This does not seem like a clear-cut violation of the statute, given the mixed purpose of the event,” Lawson wrote. “A conviction based on these facts seems unlikely.”
In making the reimbursement, Stephanie Grisham, Gowan’s publicist, said at the time that nearly $9,700 of what he was paid was claimed for mileage in his personal car but actually was driven in a state vehicle. That amount, she said, also included overestimating distances on trips in his own car.