Companies backing MCCD bond issue

Many contributing firms do business with college district
The East Valley Tribune
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Jason Emerson

The campaign backing a nearly $1 billion bond measure for local colleges has raised nearly $600,000 for the effort, much of it from companies that have done business with the Maricopa Community College District.

More than $249,000 has been contributed by 29 firms that received contracts or negotiated with the district for special programs to train workers, according to recently released campaign finance reports and district records. Most of the firms specialize in construction, health care or finance.

Jay Thorne, a political consultant hired by the campaign group, Citizens for the Maricopa Community Colleges, said support from the companies has been vital. "Businesses give to issues they know," Thorne said.

They also give to get something in return, according to Bruce Merrill of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. But that isn’t inherently good or bad, so long as the donors and amounts are reported, Merrill said.

"I call it primitive self-interest — quid pro quo," Merrill said. "To me, it’s not a case of good or bad; it’s a case of that’s the system we have in this country."

The money — $591,192 since February — is being used to promote Proposition 401, which would allow the district to float $951 million in general obligation bonds to build 1.6 million square feet of new space at 10 campuses in Maricopa County, buy equipment and repair buildings.

Campaign finance reports show that Parry, Romani, DeConcini and Symms, a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, has contributed $4,000. In 2002, the district’s governing board hired the firm for $10,000 per month, not because it was the low bidder, but for "other considerations" that weren’t specified in records of the meeting. The contract expires in December.

The lobbying firm has won roughly $3 million in federal grants for the district, officials said. Former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, a partner in the firm, accounted for $1,000 of the firm’s donations.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arizona, the district’s health insurance provider, has made the largest contribution to date — $50,000. The district is paying Blue Cross/Blue Shield $22.4 million this year to insure to 7,000 to 8,000 district employees, officials said. The contract expires next June.

Other donations from health care firms include $20,000 from Banner Health, $10,000 from Scottsdale Healthcare, $10,000 from the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association and $5,000 from Catholic Healthcare West. Each has agreements with the district for medical training. Banner is paying the district $685,000 annually to train nurses.

The district has made it clear that bond money would build new medical facilities at a number of campuses.

Dan Green, a Banner spokesman, said the ongoing nursing shortage is forcing hospitals to hire registry nurses at substantially higher salaries than full-time nurses.

Wells Fargo, the campaign’s second-largest donor at $35,000, earned approximately $113,000 three years ago by underwriting a bond for the district. RBC Dain Rauscher, which gave $15,000 to the campaign, has made a $754,000 profit since 2002 by underwriting bonds for the district. Wells Fargo and RBC Dain Rauscher are both based in Minneapolis.

The campaign’s has received $25,000 from the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association. Mesa Community College President Larry Christiansen and two other college presidents are pushing for a "formal linkage" between the district and the association for automobile training programs, according to Christiansen’s Oct. 29, 2002, Internet newsletter.