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A.G. candidate calls on Brnovich to resign following details exposed during investigation

The investigation found Brnovich’s office has increasingly diverted funds earmarked for consumer protection to pay for legal battles unrelated to consumer fraud
Published: May. 2, 2022 at 4:46 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Arizona Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes called for the resignation of current A.G. Mark Brnovich and the state’s Auditor General to open an investigation following details exposed in an Arizona’s Family Investigation. The investigation found that Brnovich’s office has increasingly diverted funds earmarked for consumer protection to pay for legal battles that have nothing to do with consumer fraud.

“I am here today to call on Attorney General Mark Brnovich to resign,” Mayes said during a press conference Monday outside of the Attorney General’s office in Phoenix. “Last week, it was revealed by AZ Family’s Morgan Loew that AG Brnovich has siphoned millions of dollars over the past four years from the Consumer Protection/Consumer Fraud Revolving Fund so that he could pursue other politically motivated activities.”

In budget requests submitted by the Attorney General since 2018, Arizona’s Family found the office has increasingly diverted money in the Consumer Protection and Fraud Revolving Fund to pay for other operations. However, analysis of the operations shows they have little or no connection to protecting Arizona consumers.

Arizona’s statute that governs the Consumer Protection/Fraud Revolving Fund states:

“The attorney general shall use the monies in the fund for operating expenses, including any cost or expense associated with the tobacco master settlement agreement arbitration, consumer fraud education, and investigative and enforcement operations of the consumer protection division.”

A.R.S. 44-1531.01

Arizona’s Family Investigates found in the Attorney General’s 2023 fiscal year budget request, Brnovich asked to divert $1.2 million to the Federalism Unit, $1.2 million to the Government Accountability and Special Litigation Unit, $525,000 to the Voter Fraud Unit, $315,000 to the Southern Arizona Law Enforcement Unit, and $1.5 million to the Organized Retail Theft Task Force. According to previous budgets, funding for many of the units mentioned above came from other sources.

Brnovich, who is running in the Arizona Republican primary for US Senate, has extensively touted the Federalism Unit’s work while on the campaign trail, including in several interviews on FOX News. The unit’s current docket includes several lawsuits against President Joe Biden, including the decision to stop border wall construction. Brnovich also used the unit to file briefs in New York City and New Jersey gun rights cases.

“Enough is enough – if Mark Brnovich wants to focus on his Senate campaign, he should do that on his own time and his own dime. He should not be misusing the AG’s office and the people’s money to climb the political ladder,” Mayes said. “This is egregious. Especially when Brnovich’s office received 15,000 consumer complaints in 2021 alone, and fraud losses increased by more than 70% nationally last year.”

Mayes pointed to a letter quoted in the AZ Family Investigation where Brnovich said to Gov. Doug Ducey there was a ‘legal risk’ about the practice of using consumer funds for non-consumer issues.

In a budget request dated August 31, 2017, Brnovich wrote to Governor Doug Ducey warning that enforcement actions required by new state laws were siphoning resources away from consumer protection efforts. The Attorney General admits in the letter that his office was using Consumer Protection/Fraud Revolving Funds to pay for the Government Accountability and Special Litigation Unit (GASL) and warned of possible legal consequences.

“There is legal risk associated with using consumer fraud settlement monies (outside of civil penalties and fees and costs) for non-CPA salaries, since by statute those monies may only be used for consumer restitution or for expenses related to “rectify[ing] violations or alleged violations of consumer protection laws,” said Brnovich in his letter to the Governor.

During our original report, Arizona’s Family asked for an interview with Attorney General Mark Brnovich, but the office said he was too busy for an interview. So the office instead directed us to Joseph Sciarrotta, chief counsel for the Attorney General’s civil litigation division. Sciarrotta says he’s proud of the division’s work, saying the office has recovered nearly $300 million for Arizona consumers through legal action and investigations during Brnovich’s nearly eight years as Attorney General.

“The technical reading of the statute says they can be used for operating expenses, generally. And then including consumer-related matters. And it also says the legislature may appropriate out of this fund,” said Sciarrotta. He argues that the state legislature decides where the AG’s office can use those funds. “It’s not how we want to use it. It’s not how we get to use it. It’s how we’re told to use it,” said Sciarrotta.

Attorney General Brnovich’s Response

Katie Conner, Spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, released the following statement after this report was originally published online: “It’s disappointing that anyone running for attorney general would engage in such cheap political theater. I’m not sure if it shows her blatant partisanship or her misunderstanding of how this office works, but it’s an insult to all of our hardworking public employees. General Brnovich is very proud to have secured more than $300 million in consumer restitution and recoveries, more than any prior administration in state history. Our office receives its funding from the Arizona legislature, and we are in full compliance with Arizona law and the legislature’s guidelines on how money shall be expended.”

Arizona’s Family has also asked for responses from other candidates for Attorney General but did not receive a response.