Since our firm was founded in 1996, our team at HighGround prides itself on being strong advocates for our clients. We take on the tough issues. We’re proud of our record of accomplishment. We take enormous pride in representing our clients with the integrity great institutions demand.
Our representation of an Arizona icon, the Fiesta Bowl, was no different.
Our work for the bowl helped evolve the game into a significant economic and community success, and there is not a single fact that points to HighGround or our employees being involved in any of the alleged wrongdoing that has stained an institution we hold dear.
For the past several days, we have debated whether our perspective on the Fiesta Bowl’s problems would help the community better understand what HighGround’s role was in working for the Bowl.
Well, today’s Arizona Republic story, featuring accusations from the State Democratic Party Chairman and quotes from the recently defeated gubernatorial candidate, put an end to our internal debate.
For the record, we were interviewed yesterday by the Republic, but for some reason, our emphatic denials of any unethical or illegal behavior on our part failed to make it into the paper. Apparently a mere accusation by a highly partisan person, such as the State Democratic Party Chairman, is sufficient enough for today’s Arizona Republic.
Prior to going into our history of involvement with the Bowl, let it be perfectly clear: no one at HighGround had any knowledge of any alleged reimbursement scheme for political contributions made by bowl employees. The first time we ever heard of that allegation was when we spoke on the record with the Arizona Republic’s Craig Harris for his original story in the fall of 2009. It was our understanding, at that time and up until the independent investigation was concluded, that those allegations were being made by a disgruntled ex-employee.
For nearly 10 years, Chuck Coughlin, Doug Cole, and Anne Hamilton Bark and every other employee of HighGround were honored to have helped promote and advocate for the Fiesta Bowl organization and its legions of volunteers.
What was HighGround hired to do for the Fiesta Bowl? Here are just two prime examples:
Beginning in 2001, we worked with the Bowl and Maricopa County on issues resulting from the Insight Bowl moving from Arizona Stadium in Tucson to the then-Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix. Maricopa County Stadium District owns the stadium and we worked to negotiate a cost effective hosting agreement to keep the game as a downtown attraction. The Insight Bowl played in Phoenix from 2000-2005 before moving the game to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, because the cost of hosting the games at Chase field became prohibitively expensive.
In 2005, the College Bowl Championship Series was maturing and the four top-tier bowls (Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose) rotation was to become a reality. However, there was a significant issue that needed to be resolved on short order to guarantee Arizona’s status in the BCS: use agreements had to be modified and state statutes needed to be changed to recognize the addition and existence of the national championship game. HighGround was instrumental in mobilizing Fiesta Bowl supporters in the legislature and got countless “yellow-jacket” volunteers to engage in the legislative process. Within a month, the needed legislation was passed with only one dissenting vote out of 90!Â Then-Governor Janet Napolitano signed HB 2035 into law on April 26, 2005.Â Arizona was now all but guaranteed membership in the elite BCS National Championship Game series.
It is easy to look back at this pivotal turning point for the Fiesta Bowl organization and dismiss it as a normal legislative occurrence. Nothing could be further from reality.
Building to that moment isn’t something that happened over night. Part of our job was to educate Arizona legislators about the competitive environment that exists in college football bowl world. We did this through educating lawmakers and opinion leaders on the innerworkings of collegiate football, the vast competition among bowl games and conferences, the BCS structure and challenges and other competitive nuances.
This education process was rooted in an annual fall trip hosted by the Fiesta Bowl to a marquee matchup in one of the major collegiate conferences. On each of these three-day trips, legislators would be educated on the workings of that specific conference, meet conference and university leadership and attend a game. All this is permitted under Arizona law as long as game tickets are purchased by attending legislators.
From 2001 through 2009, Arizona legislators met with conference commissioners, coaches and university officials from the ACC, SEC, PAC-10, Big 10, and Big 12.Â (Complete list of cities, conferences, games and ticket costs are listed below). It was our entire team’s clear understanding that the Bowl was to bill elected officials for the cost of the game day ticket. We were assured that those responsibilities, for billing elected officials, were being handled internally by Bowl staff. It is now our understanding that those responsibilities were never carried out by Bowl staff. That does not in any way exonerate lawmakers from paying for the game day ticket, it is simply stated as another sign that Bowl staff were not doing what they told us they were doing.
Overall, the trips were an integral part of educating elected officials on the economic significance of the Bowl games and how they exist in an extremely competitive environment. It is human nature to take for granted that which you already have and not to be grateful for the opportunities you have been given (an ironic point, now that we know something about the troubles that beset other aspects of the organization). The trips were a significant way to remind policy makers of how economically important the games are to Arizona’s economy and to ensure that our place in the BCS rotation was not be taken for granted. That which has been granted to our State can easily be taken away.
Without legislative support, we never would have hosted two National Championship Games, which have generated hundreds of millions of dollars for our local economy.
In the past two weeks, some partisan political figures have made allegations about wrongdoing that we at HighGround take very seriously â€“ all the more so because those allegations are flat-out untruths. It is time to stop the rhetoric.
There are simply no facts to support any allegations of impropriety on the part of anyone at HighGround. We were honored and pleased to help an organization we consider to be an Arizona treasure.
We are equally troubled and shocked by the reports we have read and are hopeful that the Attorney General can sort out truth from fiction in a deliberate, fair manner and hold accountable those who are responsible for breaking laws or misleading the public.
|Year||City||Conference (s)||Matchup||Ticket Cost|
|2001||Seattle||Big 10/Big 10||Michigan/Washington||$35.00|
|2002||Denver||Mountain West/Big 12||Colorado State/Colorado||$45.00|
|2007||Pasadena||Mountain West/ PAC-10||BYU/UCLA||$47.00|
|2008||Boston||ACC||Virginia Tech/Boston College||$50.00|