Outspoken critic of freebies gets caught taking them

Posted: Updated:
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- He's known for pointing fingers at fellow politicians who take freebies, but now state Sen. Steve Gallardo is apologizing for doing the same thing.

The Phoenix Democrat admitted to taking a pair of NASCAR tickets in March to attend the Subway 500 at Phoenix International Speedway.

Given how outspoken he's been about the need for a gift ban at the state Legislature, Gallardo said he used bad judgment and now plans to reimburse NASCAR for the cost of the two tickets.

Which Arizona lawmakers are accepting gifts from lobbyists?

"In hindsight I was wrong, I should not have done it," Gallardo said Thursday afternoon. "I took my little brother with the Big Brother Big Sister program. I shouldn't have taken it."

A 2011 report exposed dozens of lawmakers who accepted free trips and sporting tickets from lobbyists connected with the Fiesta Bowl. One of the lawmakers caught up in the scandal was Gallardo.

Although there was nothing illegal in going on the trips and taking the tickets, Gallardo has led the charge for a gift ban as he's introduced legislation to end the practice. He and others believe elected officials shouldn't take gifts because it's unethical and could lead to corruption.

Despite the incident, Gallardo says he will push for new legislation next year to bar lawmakers from taking free tickets from lobbyists and other special interest groups.

At least Gallardo was willing to talk about the gifts he's received this year. Other politicians at the Capitol were unwilling.

According to state records, Sens. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, and Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, stayed in Laguna Beach, Calif. courtesy of one of the most influential lobbyists in Arizona.

The Center for Arizona Policy doled out nearly $5,000 on the two lawmakers, who had supported many of the bills backed by the organization. Barton and representatives with the Center for Arizona Policy said they were unavailable for comment.

Yarbrough declined, as well. But when 3TV asked if he wanted to talk about what he was doing in Laguna Beach for the lobbying firm, he said, "No, you should ask them."