House GOP hires special counsel to study impeachment

October 27, 1987

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Republican Gov. Evan Mecham insists there was no secret loan to his campaign last fall, but House members of his own party have hired a special counsel to investigate whether he should be impeached for it.

And, a committee seeking to oust the embattled governor said Monday it had gathered more than enough signatures to force Mecham into a recall election.

“There was no secret loan,” Mecham said, referring to an unreported $350,000 loan from a Tempe businessman in 1986 that made up about 30 percent of his campaign fund.

“Everything was reported,” Mecham told Cable News Network on Monday. “You sort of have to remember that in this country accusations are easy to make, but there is no secret loan.”

Barry Wolfson, the developer who provided the loan, is a defendant in a civil fraud and racketeering lawsuit over the alleged misuse of industrial development bonds that were slated, but not used, for low-income housing.

House Republicans on Monday hired attorney William Patrick French to look into the loan and other allegations regarding the Mecham administration and to recommend whether the House should consider a bill of impeachment.

The Mecham Recall Committee announced that it has more petition signatures than the 343,913 votes Mecham got in the November 1986 election.

“Evan Mecham is political history,” said Ed Buck, a recall organizer, adding that it is only a matter of time to see whether the governor resigns, is recalled or impeached.

Last week’s disclosure of the campaign loan, and an allegation that it was tied to two gubernatorial appointments, led lawmakers for the first time to begin considering impeaching the governor.

French, a Phoenix lawyer, former Maricopa County Superior Court judge and U.S. Justice Department prosecutor, was hired by House Speaker Joe Lane, a Republican.

French will make recommendations to House leadership “if and when we ever do reach the point if we consider impeachment at all,” Lane said. “This by no means means that we are going to have an impeachment.”

French, a Democrat, said he had no preconceived opinions about the legality of Mecham’s failure to report the $350,000 campaign loan last fall.

The investigation “will be thorough, will be professional and will be expedited as much as we can do so,” French said. “This has to be cleared up for the benefit of the state of Arizona.”

French said the state impeachment law is vague, and part of his job will be to research what it requires.

French said he would not necessarily confine his investigation to the loan controversy, and expected to cooperate with Attorney General Bob Corbin, who is leading an investigation for a state grand jury scheduled to begin Nov. 3.

Buck, at a news conference, said he did not have an exact signature count, but displayed copies of petitions that he said have more than 300,000 signatures.

He also said there are enough additional petitions being processed to put the group over the number of votes Mecham received in November 1986 when he defeated Carolyn Warner and Bill Schulz with 40 percent of the vote.

The committee plans to file its petition signatures with the secretary of state’s office next Monday.

It needs 216,746 valid signatures of registered voters to force Mecham into a recall election, and Buck has said he wanted 350,000 to provide a cushion in case a large number are thrown out.

Mecham came under fire shortly after taking office, when he rescinded the state’s holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.