Roland Youngling rode a river of improper contributions during his losing sheriff's campaign

Funny Money 

Roland Youngling rode a river of improper contributions during his losing sheriff's campaign

Roland Youngling's Republican campaign for sheriff--one that cop unions claimed would restore integrity to Pima County law enforcement--was fueled by improper cash contributions from sheriff's deputies and other county employees.

At least 50 employees of the sheriff's department, mostly deputies, were among the 57 county employees who made monetary contributions to Youngling, a respected former deputy who finished 16 percentage points behind 24-year Sheriff Clarence Dupnik in the Nov. 2 general election.

Financial disclosures filed on Youngling's behalf also show improper entries for residential addresses required of donors, according to a Weekly post-election review of the final campaign-finance reports. In some cases, donors were improperly listed as living at the sheriff's headquarters, 1750 E. Benson Highway, or at the Superior Courts Building, 110 W. Congress St.

Youngling's campaign--dominated by bitter, union-orchestrated attacks on Dupnik, a Democrat--also accepted and reported an illegal business contribution from Barkman & Associates. The private investigation firm, led by respected former deputy Weaver Barkman, is listed as providing two contributions totaling $300 to Youngling's campaign. Businesses cannot provide cash to political candidates.

And Youngling's campaign accepted too much money from a county employee who should not have given anything, records show. Jo Fontenot, office manager for the Pima County Probation Office, made two contributions totaling $375. The limit, set by state law, for last year's election cycle was $350.

Most alarming were the 57 contributions the Youngling campaign accepted from county employees, county officials say.

Campaign finance reports are required by state law but are not subject to audit or even review by the county Division of Elections; questions are typically raised by reporters or rivals.

Youngling was unaware that his campaign ran afoul of state law or the county ethics rule that has prohibited cash contributions from county employees to county candidates since 1992.

"I'll be darned," Youngling said when the Weekly called, just as he was about to tee off at a golf course south of Tucson with relatives. Gracious and polite, Youngling said: "This is the first I've heard of it. It's news to me. I didn't know employees could not give."

Youngling, a first-time candidate who held a variety of jobs under Dupnik that included detective and head of the disbanded Gang Unit, was not active in fund raising.

"People would just send money. We'd send out envelopes with campaign literature, and we'd get the money back," Youngling said.

Lynn Widdows, who served as treasurer for Youngling campaign and who filled out his reports, said there was little solicitation necessary to raise the $27,213 in contributions. Youngling put another $10,200 of his own money into the campaign.

"We didn't need to (solicit)" Widdows said.

The money came automatically? "Yep," Widdows said.

Widdows doubted there was a prohibition against county employee contributions to county candidates. She also said she had "questions" about facts presented by the Weekly, and after checking around, added, "I don't see where we did anything wrong."

Widdows also attempted to deflect attention by questioning whether a county employee could run for office. Her comment was directed at Michael Steber, the jail officer who lost to Youngling in the Republican primary. (Nothing legally prohibited Steber's attempt.) And Widdows complained that spouses or relatives of deputies gave to Dupnik's campaign. (They are allowed to do so.)

In sweeping ethics rules meant to clean up the political and government abuses, the Board of Supervisors adopted a set of ethics rules that included the ban on employee political contributions: "No county employee shall make a political contribution and/or solicit or collect political contributions for any candidates for any elected county office. Nothing in this section shall prohibit elected county officials from making contributions to political campaigns."

The measure passed easily in 1992 despite grumbling by a few employees who fretted the rule relegated them to second-class citizenship. The county rules do not go nearly as far as Tucson's, Arizona's or the federal government's Hatch Act in barring employee political activity, including work on campaigns and monetary contributions.

Janet Brown, the office manager for county Risk Management, gave $65 to Youngling's campaign. A county employee since 1991, Brown said she was unaware that such a contribution is prohibited.

"I believed in the cause and, honestly, I've never been told that I couldn't give to a county candidate," Brown said.

The restriction, Brown added, is onerous and "pretty intrusive."

No campaign other than Youngling's has been so dependant upon improper, county-employee contributions since the rule was adopted. Some campaigns have returned one or two employee contributions that they collected.

Campaign finance statements, unlike those at the federal level or those for city or state candidates who accept public money, rarely attract attention beyond that of reporters or rivals in the county. The Division of Elections has no power to audit or scrutinize details of the reports as a basis for complaint or remediation.

Reporters covering the sheriff's race either ignored the campaign finance reports or failed to recognize the county rule. They could have detected early violations; Youngling's campaign began accepting cash from county employees in May.

The reports triggered an advisory by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, whose office supervises the Elections Division.

On Dec. 29, Huckelberry sent a memo to Dupnik, the man who is left with the decision of whether to discipline those in his command who helped fund his challenger's failed political campaign.

"Attached please find a list of employees under your direction who violated the policy. I realize this is a difficult subject. However, the employees should be informed of the violated county policy and should avoid the same in the future," Huckelberry wrote.

Don't look for any punishment.

"The feedback we've received is that these people were really pressured to give," said Dupnik, who raised and spent $26,000 to win his seventh election. "The union really pressured people. ... What is the sheriff going to do about it? Nothing. Most of the people weren't aware of the county (prohibition). We'll make them aware of it. And that's going to be the end of it from as far as I'm concerned. Some other county office may pursue it."

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