New political group has close ties with former Fiesta Bowl lobbyist

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- He was a key player in one of the biggest scandals to ever hit the state Capitol.

Now, a group with close ties to former Fiesta Bowl lobbyist, Gary Husk, is trying to influence elections.

A new group called the People for Arizona has been dropping money on several legislative races across the state.

Little is known about the organization except that it's being operated by two lobbyists who work for Husk Partners, a firm started and operated by Husk.  

The Valley-based company had lobbied for the Fiesta Bowl for more than a decade.

But officials with the bowl fired the company last year amid a scandal that involved dozens of lawmakers who took free trips and game tickets.

Michael Mandell, who started working for Husk Partners last year, says his work with the People for Arizona is not connected to his boss at all.  

According to paperwork filed with the state, Mandell is the treasurer for the outside spending group. Ryan Husk, who also works for his father at the firm, is listed as the chairman.

In addition, the mailing address for the People For Arizona is the same as the Husk Partners' office in Phoenix.

It's unknown right now who has contributed to the organization as campaign finance reports are not due until later in the year.

The group Mandell operates did file a notice with Secretary of State's last week office that it  had spent over $2,500 on House and Senate races.

Mandell says the organization is playing in four Legislative races including one involving GOP Reps. John Kavanagh and Michelle Ugenti.

In that contest, the group mailed a pamphlet to voters slamming Kavanagh and Ugenti's opponent in the GOP primary, Jennifer Peterson.

The mailer described Peterson as "deceptive" and claims her economic policies would cost taxpayers more money.

"I don't know anything about them because if I did, I'd be in jail," Kavanagh said Monday of the group.

State law prohibits any coordination between a candidates and any outside group that advocates for or against a politician.

The fact one of these organizations is closely linked to the former  Fiesta Bowl  lobbyist has raise some eyebrows.

"It underscores, I think, the perception among voters right now that there is a lot of corruption and a lot of transparency issues... that are taking place in Arizona politics," said Rep. Chad Campbell, the highest ranking Democrat in the House.

Campbell and his party have called for lobbying reforms since the scandal that dominated the 2011 legislative session.

An investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery cleared more than 30 state lawmakers of any wrongdoing.

That same investigation also cleared a handful of lobbyists. Earlier this year federal agents raided the office of Husk Partners.

Husk is being investigated on suspicion that he took part in a campaign contributions scam in which bowl employees were reimbursed for their political donations.

Husk, who lobbied for the bowl from 2000 until January 2011, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

John Junker, the former chief executive of the Fiesta Bowl, was fired in 2011 amid the scandal and still faces possible time in prison.