Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for Arizona governor, moonlighted as an Uber driver while serving as a state senator.
Lawmakers often work full-time jobs or take on side gigs to supplement their salaries for legislative work, but they have to report the income publicly — something Hobbs did not do, records show.
A campaign spokesperson confirmed Hobbs drove for the ride-share company for three months in late 2016, earning $2,682, enough that Hobbs should have included it on the annual report that documents public officials’ financial interests. At the time, Hobbs was the Democratic leader in the Arizona Senate and in her sixth year as a state lawmaker.
While paperwork errors might seem innocuous, similar omissions have in the past created problems for politicians, from fines to resignations. Additionally, missing and incomplete disclosure reports leave the public in the dark about possible conflicts of interest and those who might seek to influence elected representatives.
Another complication is that Hobbs now oversees the reporting for the disclosures, a role she has held since she was elected secretary of state in 2018.
The campaign did not make Hobbs available for an interview for this article.
Hobbs spokesperson Sarah Robinson said the information missing from the report was “just a harmless oversight” that was corrected after The Arizona Republic brought it to light.
In a written statement, Hobbs sought to cast the Uber job as evidence she understands the plight of everyday Arizonans facing unprecedented inflation today.
Hobbs began driving for Uber while facing financial struggles after another job she held in 2016 ended, according to the campaign. That year, she reported four jobs in addition to her $24,000 lawmaking salary, and her husband worked two jobs to support their family of four. How much they earned is unclear, because the state does not require disclosure of income.
Hobbs amended her 2016 financial disclosure report on Monday to include the Uber income, which was paid through an affiliate called Rasier LLC. In addition to confirming the work, Hobbs’ campaign provided a copy of a tax form documenting the income in October, November and December 2016 through 263 transactions.
The updated financial disclosure statement was posted online Tuesday by the Secretary of State’s Office, but for the wrong year. It was filed with 2015 instead of 2016; a spokeswoman for the office said it was corrected Thursday.
As secretary of state, Hobbs is bound by law to collect and post the disclosures online. Penalties for late filings can result in fees, and if a public official “knowingly” files a false report, it can lead to a misdemeanor charge, state law says.
“The elected official who is responsible for managing disclosure forms should be held to a very high ethical standard in regard to not only managing all of those records, but ensuring that their own disclosure forms are accurate, filed in a timely fashion, and so forth,” said John Pelissero, senior scholar in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
Pelissero said it was “fair game” for the person overseeing the disclosures to face criticism if they are not following the same rules.
It’s common practice for lawmakers to take on jobs to supplement what they earn each year as state legislators.
Officeholders are supposed to document that outside income, as well as things like business interests, gifts and debts, each January for the prior year. Candidates for office must file the same reports, which are different than periodic campaign finance reports that cover political spending and donations.
Uber job taken ‘to make ends meet’
In 2016, prominent ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber were expanding in Arizona, and the city of Phoenix and state leaders had reached an agreement to allow ride-share drivers to pick up passengers at Sky Harbor International Airport.
In 2015 and 2016, before she joined the gig economy as a driver, Hobbs voted in favor of two bills: One allowed the companies to offer rides statewide through a new permit program and the other exempted rideshare companies from sales tax collections.
The bills passed the Legislature with overwhelming support from both parties and were signed into law by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
Robinson said Hobbs drove for Uber in 2016 to supplement her income after Hobbs’ job at Emerge Arizona, a political training program for Democratic women, was not renewed and Hobbs lost her primary source of income. Hobbs had attended Emerge before seeking public office.
In her statement, Hobbs said she took the part-time driving job in the face of financial struggles, and that if she is elected governor, she would work “day in and day out for families all across this state who are struggling just like mine.”
“It was hard to struggle financially,” Hobbs said in the statement. “And I never wanted my kids to worry. Like many Arizonans, I did what I had to do to provide for my family. With costs rising on everything from gas to groceries to housing, I know firsthand how hard it can be to make ends meet.”
In 2016, Hobbs reported income from four sources: faculty jobs at Arizona State University and Paradise Valley Community College; as volunteer manager at Phoenix Pride; and executive director of Emerge Arizona. In 2017, Hobbs reported she worked only for Phoenix Pride and Paradise Valley Community College. Joe Wolf, a Hobbs campaign consultant, said the Phoenix Pride job began in December 2016 and became Hobbs’ primary income.
Hobbs’ mention of these struggles prompted The Arizona Republic to dig deeper into her financial background as she seeks to be Arizona’s chief executive. Real estate records show Hobbs and her husband, a child therapist, lost their Phoenix home to foreclosure in 2010, amid the Great Recession and housing market crash that left millions of Americans without homes and hit Arizona harder than almost every other state.
Asked whether that background should reflect on Hobbs’ ability as governor to oversee an over $16 billion state budget, Robinson said, “It is definitely something that voters should take into account that she is a regular person” who has “done what she needs to do to provide for her family.”
Robinson later cited Hobbs’ record managing her agency budget as secretary of state, reversing the financial deficits and mismanagement of the prior administration, and from her days outside of government when “she helped run one of the nation’s largest domestic violence shelters.” Hobbs previously worked as a lobbyist for the shelter, the Sojourner Center.
Scandals prompted by nondisclosure
The financial disclosure reports allow the public a window into public officials’ financial interests and have played a role in several notorious Arizona political scandals.
In 2006, former state Treasurer David Petersen pleaded guilty to failing to list $4,200 in commissions on his disclosure reports. As part of his agreement with prosecutors, Petersen resigned his office and was sentenced to serve three years on probation.
In 2011, more than 30 state lawmakers were investigated for not reporting trips and gifts from Fiesta Bowl organizers. Several criminal probes ensued, in particular targeting a scheme funneling campaign contributions through Fiesta Bowl employees, but prosecutors ultimately didn’t charge the lawmakers who took the favors. The prosecutor at the time cited the difficult legal standard to prove someone “knowingly” violated the law.
Ken Bennett, a Republican now seeking election to the state Senate, was Arizona’s secretary of state just after the Fiesta Bowl scandal. His office began posting the disclosures online in late 2011, months before lawmakers facing public outcry over the incident passed a bill that required the Secretary of State’s Office to create databases of the reports on the internet. Hobbs, who was then in the Arizona House of Representatives, voted in favor of the bill.
Bennett said the Secretary of State’s Office did not have resources to proactively check the reports for accuracy, but posting them online offered a key transparency and accountability measure for the public, journalists and, sometimes, a candidate’s political opponents.
“The more public those kinds of documents are, the more the candidate or official knows that their relationships can be known to the general public or scrutinized,” he said. “I think it just kind of helps keep everyone honest if they know that everyone can see their information.”