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Fiesta Bowl Asks Pols for Reimbursement of Illegal Contributions

PHOENIX -- The Fiesta Bowl is seeking the return of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions made to U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl and other Arizona politicians, according to documents obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Bowl employees and their families made the contributions between 2000 and 2009, and were then reimbursed by the bowl. In all, the bowl wants $48,225.17 returned.

The documents from the bowl showed that the money was given to nearly two dozen other Arizona politicians. McCain received, by far, the most cash: $19,500 was given to three of his campaign accounts.

There was no indication the politicians knew the money they received was in fact coming from the bowl, a non-profit that is barred from making political donations.

A spokesman for Kyl did not immediately return calls and emails seeking comment. The senator from Arizona received $3,000 in bowl donations.

McCain's office said in a statement that neither he nor his staff was aware of any alleged reimbursements.

It said the money would be donated to Arizona charities.

In a letter sent to Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Fiesta Bowl attorney Nathan Hochman said the tax-exempt organization was required to try to recover the money under state and federal laws. The letter said recovered money would be donated to youth or education in Arizona.

Hochman acknowledged to the AP that it may be difficult to get the money back because some campaigns may not have the funds. Also, at least one of the politicians, former state lawmaker Jake Flake, has since died.

"If we don't succeed, we don't succeed, but it won't be for a lack of effort," Hochman said.

A recent internal report by the Fiesta Bowl detailed reimbursements to employees for political donations in apparent violation of federal and state laws, plus thousands of dollars in inappropriate spending. The bowl fired longtime president and CEO John Junker.

It put the bowl's NCAA license and status in the national championship rotation in jeopardy. But it has emerged with its role as host every four years apparently intact.

The Bowl Championship Series fined the Fiesta Bowl $1 million last week, and on Tuesday, the NCAA placed it on probation for a year.

Besides McCain and Kyl, former U.S. Reps. J.D. Hayworth and John Shadegg were asked to return campaign funds. All four are Republicans. Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell was asked to return money he received when he ran for the state senate in 2000.

Other prominent Arizona officials asked to return money from the bowl included state Senate President Russell Pearce, Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Gov. Jan Brewer. All are Republicans.

Brewer campaign spokesman Doug Cole said the Fiesta Bowl's repayment request was out of line. The bowl is seeking $560 contributed in 2009.

"They're trying to make their problems someone else's problems," he said.

The Fiesta Bowl also was preparing to send bills to lawmakers who accepted free trips and football game tickets. Arizona legislators can accept gifts of travel from lobbyists and their employers, and, in limited circumstances, tickets to entertainment events. They must report trips as gifts.

Brewer said earlier Tuesday that state lawmakers should clarify state laws governing gifts to public officials in light of the Fiesta Bowl scandal, but added there are legitimate grounds for officials to accept gifts of travel and token items of appreciation.

Sponsored travel is appropriate when officials are representing the state and "sometimes bringing business back," Brewer said.

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