PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The state awarded a $1.2 million no-bid contract to a former paid political advisor on Gov. Doug Ducey's 2018 re-election campaign, according to state documents.
The Arizona Department of Health Services selected political consultant and lobbyist Mario Diaz in January to handle public outreach among Hispanics as the state was preparing to ramp up vaccinations. Diaz was hired to ramp up a social media campaign, develop a website, canvass neighborhoods and host four telephonic town halls to educate Latinos and Hispanics about the importance of wearing masks and provide information about vaccines. Part of the deal also required Diaz to provide "vaccine and transportation" for people older than 65 years old in a heavily populated Hispanic zip code.
According to a copy of the deal, cost estimates for the initial contract were about $270,000, but the agreement was amended twice in February, raising the total cost to over $1 million. We asked Diaz to provide more details about his services, but he declined to comment, saying he was not authorized to speak. And Gov. Ducey said he was not aware of the agreement and said he trusted his staff at the state health department to make the right decisions.
When asked how the seven-figure agreement came together and if other firms were contacted before awarding it to Diaz, a spokesman for the state health department sent a broad statement that did not address our questions. "The success Arizona's had with the vaccine is part of a targeted and focused outreach effort by the Arizona Department of Health Services. The relationship with this firm was an outgrowth of that effort. Based on the recent CDC report on vaccinating underserved communities, this approach is working," Steve Elliott said in a statement.
Hispanics have been hit hard during the pandemic and a recent CDC report praised the state's recent response to vaccinate in areas where there is a "high social vulnerability." Currently, Hispanics make up about one-third of Arizona's population, but state health officials report that 11% of that population have received at least one dose of the vaccination.
Diaz, who is a Democratic consultant, started his political career working for then Gov. Janet Napolitano. But in recent years, he has aligned himself more closely with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. Diaz was brought on toward the end of the governor's 2018 re-election campaign. A review of the campaign's spending records show Ducey's operations paid Diaz $15,000 for consulting services during the final three months of a campaign that Ducey easily won over the Democratic nominee that year, David Garcia.