The Arizona Ministries of Truth

George OrwellIn 2016 Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature, in cooperation with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, passed a state budget bill that gave $3 million to each of two “freedom schools” at the state’s two biggest universities. The so-called freedom schools had previously received startup money from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation.

The University of Arizona’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom is the older of the two schools. It was founded in 2008 by Philosophy Professor David Schmidtz, and is popularly called the “Freedom Center.” He was able to expand it in 2010 after he received $1.8 million from Koch.

The newer school, Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, was created in 2016 when the budget bill combined the university’s existing Center for Political Thought and Leadership and Center for the Study of Economic Liberty. They were founded in 2014 using at least $4.5 million received from Koch.

The Legislature had previously given the U of A’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom $500,000 a year in 2013, 2014, and 2015. But those appropriations hadn’t attracted much political attention.

But the $6 million appropriation to the freedom schools in 2016 drew widespread criticism for several reasons. First of all, many people suspected it was a political payback for the $8.2 million in outside “dark money, ” much of it from the Kochtopus, which had helped Ducey win the 2014 gubernatorial election.

Also, there was concern the schools would indoctrinate students in the irrational libertarian ideology promoted by the Koch brothers. Dr. William Boyes, for instance, the founding director of ASU’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, advocated for the elimination of public schools, and called them the biggest obstacle to greater personal and political liberty. He was also an advocate of the radical Austrian School of economic thought, promoted by the Mises Institute, which calls for the government to be dismembered so the free market can magically solve all problems.

The biggest complaints, however, were about why the Legislature had made funding for the freedom schools a priority when Arizona had cut state university funding more than any other state in response to the Great Recession – and hadn’t restored it. In the 2015 budget bill, for example, they had reduced state university funding by $99 million, and just $32 million of that was restored in 2016 bill, with $6 million of that earmarked for freedom schools.

Gov. Ducey’s spokesperson Daniel Scarpinato defended the earmarks by saying the governor “believes it’s important that students in our university system are exposed to a broad range of viewpoints and academic views on a number of issues, including economics.” State Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said the money was needed to, “teach our young people about the virtues of free enterprise,” and called it “an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.” And former conservative radio talk show host state Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said the money represents “a wonderful opportunity” because, “The universities in Arizona – two of them – have an education and professors who do not adhere to conservative thoughts and rules or the conservative attitude toward government.”

In 2017 the Legislature gave more money to the freedom schools in the state’s FY2018 budget bill. ASU’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership got another an additional $3 million, while the U of A’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom received another $2.5 million. But that wasn’t all. The Legislature also gave each of them another $1 million for “operating expenditures.” This money was included in the appropriations the Legislature awarded each university for capital improvements and operating expenditures. ASU received a total of $7,639,500, and the U of A $4,157,700 for these purposes. The extra $1 million for each freedom school was 13% of ASU’s total, and 24% of the U of A’s.

The Arizona Legislature made similar appropriations in 2018 to the freedom schools in the state’s FY2019 budget bill. It repeated the $3 million for ASU’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, and the $2.5 million for the U of A’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. It also gave each of them another $1 million for “operating expenditures.” Again, this money was included in the total appropriations given to each university for capital improvements and operating expenditures. This time the extra $1 million was 24% of the $4,245,000 total that ASU received, and 46% of the $2,164,800 total the U of A received.

The additional money was awarded to the freedom schools despite a report from the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting that found they still hadn’t spent $9.8 million of the money the Legislature had already given them. State Senate Appropriations Committee Chair John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, defended the extra money for the freedom schools because he believed they provided an ideological balance, as they helped to counter a “left-wing bias” at the universities.

In 2019 the Legislature gave more money to the freedom schools in the state’s FY 2020 budget bill. This time they gave $3,023,800 to ASU’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, and $2,5526,500 to the U of A’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. No additional funds, however, were appropriated to the schools for operating expenditures.

In the meantime, critics attacked the two freedom schools for being political propaganda tools of the Koch brothers. A group of Tucson residents, along with some U of A faculty, alumni, and students formed a group called Kochs Off Campus to get the University to sever all ties with the Freedom Center. Prof. Schmidtz denied that Charles Koch had ever influenced or interfered with the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom’s operations.

It appears that ASU responded to the criticism by giving its School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership a makeover. Dr. Boyes is no longer the director of the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty. And Paul Carrese, the founding director of the parent School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, has challenged critics to reconsider their preconceived notions about the school. In April 2019 the school announced it had created a diverse advisory council called the National Board of Counselors, co-chaired by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Democratic lieutenant governor of Maryland, and Jon Kyl, former Republican U.S. senator from Arizona.

But whatever the freedom schools might eventually accomplish, the Legislature’s inclination to mandate curricula at Arizona’s universities, and spend lots of scarce tax dollars to do it, is disturbing. This is particularly so because at the same time the Legislature was appropriating millions to the freedom schools, while simultaneously failing to restore university funding, Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued the Arizona Board of Regents for significantly increasing tuition and thereby failing to make college education as “as nearly free as possible, ” as required by the state’s constitution. (On April 26, 2018, the The Maricopa County Superior Court dismissed Brnovich’s lawsuit, saying he lacked the standing to sue the state’s universities over their tuition rates.)

During the March 2017 opening of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, Gov. Ducey and conservative political commentator George Will spoke about how the preservation of the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, especially on campus, was one of the school’s primary missions. But it seems that Arizona Republicans are only concerned about preserving the free speech rights of conservatives. The Legislature, for example, has prohibited the state’s universities from spending money on student newspapers, lawsuits by law students to help inmates in state prisons, and medical marijuana research. These restrictions were imposed by hiding them in the fine print of annual budget bills.

And in 2010 the Legislature passed, and Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed, HB 2281, sponsored by state Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchield Park, to stop Mexican-American studies classes from being included in the curricula of Tucson’s public schools. Republican John Huppenthal, Arizona’s school superintendent at the time, supported the bill because he claimed the classes taught Mexican-American students to resent Anglos. In 2017, however, a federal judge found that the law violated the U.S. Constitution.

The Republican-controlled Legislature attacked free speech rights again in 2016 when it passed HB 2617, sponsored by state House Speaker David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, and signed by Gov. Ducey, to prevent state agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott Israeli because of Israel’s controversial treatment of Palestinians. In 2018 a federal judge struck down the law because it violated the free speech rights of businesses. That didn’t deter the Legislature, however, because in 2019 state Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, reintroduced the bill with slightly different language, and it was passed and signed again.

Comparing Two Arizona Scandals

A Phoenix newspaper investigation in November found that Valley Metro Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Banta appeared to have abused his expense account by several tens of thousands of dollars. Valley Metro is the metropolitan Phoenix public mass transit district that manages the local bus and light rail system.

Banta subsequently resigned and the district’s new interim CEO, Eric Anderson, told the district’s governing boards that Valley Metro’s travel budget will be reduced and all employee travel expenses will be scrutinized from now on. The City of Phoenix, the largest contributor to the district’s budget, is conducting an audit of all of the organizations travel expenses back to 2010.

Valley Metro operates with public funding, so there was justifiable outrage when Banta’s inappropriate expenditures were revealed, especially from local conservative politicians. The three most conservative members of the Phoenix City Council sent a letter to Arizona State Attorney General Mark Brnovich calling for a criminal investigation into Banta’s spending. Brnovich, also a conservative Republican, responded by recently announcing that his office will conduct a criminal investigation of Banta’s questionable expenditures.

Conservative Republican state Rep. Warren Petersen also reacted to the scandal by announcing he will introduce legislation to crack down on public officials who commit fraud and misappropriate public funds. “Termination from a high position in government office should not be like winning the Lotto,” Petersen said. He was referring to the fact that Banta will still be entitled to a $265,000 annuity that was part of his employment contract. There’s already a state law that disqualifies government employees convicted of felonies committed while they’re on the job from collecting a state retirement pension, but Petersen says his proposal will go further.

Joe Arpaio
Joe Arpaio (Phoenix New Times)

In the meantime, malfeasance by conservative Republican Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio since he assumed office in 1993 has cost county taxpayers an estimated $142 million in legal settlements, court awards and legal fees.

Furthermore, in 2013 U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that Arpaio’s office was guilty of violating the constitutional rights of Latino drivers by stopping them for essentially “driving while brown.” The judged ordered Arpaio’s office to cease using race or ancestry as a grounds to stop, detain or hold occupants of vehicles.

The sheriff’s office didn’t comply, so in January of 2015 Judge Snow announced he was initiating civil contempt charges against Arpaio for failing to follow his orders. One of the things that was revealed during the court testimony was that Arpaio paid at least $250,000 in public funds to a Seattle investigator before he figured out the investigator was a con artist. The plaintiffs in the case submitted evidence that Arpaio paid the investigator to see if Judge Snow was participating in a conspiracy against him. Mike Zullo, a member of one of Arpiao’s volunteer posses, oversaw the operation and testified in court that the investigation wasn’t intended to hurt the judge. Arpaio may have committed perjury too when he first denied any knowledge of the investigation and then later testified he knew about it. This prompted Judge Snow to declare in court that Arpaio, “has not been fully forthcoming with this court.” After testimony concluded in contempt hearings Judge Snow warned that a criminal contempt case my result from the testimony of Arpaio and his minions.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is controlled by Republicans, has failed to take any actions against Arpaio. Instead, they recently raised property taxes and one of the reasons was to help pay the additional bills the county has incurred as a result of Arpaio’s offensive behavior.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich hasn’t yet announced that he’s investigating Arpaio. The same can be said for conservative Republican Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

It’s obvious there are two types of government scandals in Arizona, and local conservative politicians and media outlets are deciding which ones matter the most.


On November 8, 2016, Maricopa County voters finally wised-up to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and voted him out of office by a margin of 66 to 44 percent.

On July 31, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton found Joe Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt of court for violating a court order to stop racial profiling by his deputies.

On August 25, 2017, President Donald Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

On September 10, 2018, former Valley Metro CEO Steve Banta pleaded guilty to misusing public money on dining and travel expenses.

On November 20, 2018, former Valley Metro CEO Steve Banta was sentenced to probation and a $6,000 fine.