The Arizona Legislature's 'Hell Week': Money, mingling and moving fast

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January 12, 2024
Arizona Republic
Mary Jo Pitzl

The key rites of winter at the Arizona Capitol have concluded: The Legislature reconvened, the governor delivered her State of the State address and "Hell Week" ended in a flurry of fundraisers.

A longstanding tradition, "Hell Week" is the brief period in which lawmakers and lobbyists scurry from event to event, all to beef up campaign accounts and establish connections before the start of the legislative session triggers a ban on lobbyist contributions to lawmakers.

Think of it as a whirl of happy hours on steroids, often with a check attached.

Check, please

“It’s wonderful,” deadpanned Barry Aarons, a longtime Capitol lobbyist as he walked into an event at a midtown Italian restaurant. “You get to see old friends and drain your bank account.”

The name "Hell Week" is appropriate, given the crammed schedule of events.

“It’s called 'Hell Week' for a reason,” said Butch Williams, a chemist with the Scottsdale Research Institute who attended a fundraiser as a churn of guests coming and going were visible up and down the outside sidewalk. “We have six places to go, but we only have the ability to get to three.”

Despite the deadline-driven frenzy, "Hell Week" is unnecessary, said Stuart Goodman. A lobbyist with 34 years of experience, Goodman views the practice as an artifact.

“It’s almost ceremonial now,” he said.

That’s because the conditions that created "Hell Week" have changed.

The origins of 'Hell Week'

Nearly four decades ago, voters capped the aggregate amount of money that an individual could give in any one year. That meant lobbyists, especially, often maxed out their donations before the year was up. That was a convenient — and legal — reason to decline a fundraising request from a lawmaker.

But it was a new ballgame when the calendar flipped to a new year and the cap reset. That created a one-week window before the start of the new legislative session where fundraising was allowed, giving birth to what became known as Hell Week.

In the ensuing years, the laws were changed to remove the aggregate cap and increase the amount of individual contributions.

That meant there was no need to scramble to donate money in one short week right after the holidays. A December contribution made electronically would be just as good as one made in the first week of January with a personal check.

In fact, Goodman said a year-end donation might be more beneficial than waiting for "Hell Week." Candidates who want to show their fundraising muscle can reflect the donations on their campaign finance reports, which have a Dec. 31 cutoff date. Donations made during "Hell Week" won't show up until months later.

Despite calling "Hell Week" "an occupational hazard," Goodman said he still occasionally attends and contributes at the annual events.

It's more than money

Although timing no longer is a key concern, procrastination means most contributions come in at the last minute, said Tom Dorn, another Capitol lobbyist. Thus, the "Hell Week" rush.

Dorn, who quipped that the tie between lobbying and fundraising "started at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. under President Grant," said there is also social benefit to the events.

"It’s not just about getting contributions, it’s about getting to know each other better," he said. It’s like coming back for a semester at school."

Longtime lobbyist Kevin DeMenna agreed. The personal interaction often is more valuable than any money raised, he said.

At the one fundraiser he hosted, DeMenna estimated he raised $10,000 for six lawmakers — a small amount given that donors can contribute up to $5,400 for each lawmaker if they choose to do so. That is rare, but new campaign finance reports due by mid-January may provide some surprises.

Not all donations are banned

These days, DeMenna said, individual contributions to support candidates are outpaced by donations from political action committees and independent expenditure campaigns.

“PAC season is year-round, it’s like rabbit season," he said. "And its not good for the rabbits.”

To that point, late on the first day of the legislative session, Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma along with others hosted a fundraiser for the GOP House and Senate victory funds. A $25,000 check would make a contributor a headline sponsor. Guests were asked to give $1,000.

A little discomfort

As for the lawmakers, there's an air of discomfort about the events. But there's also an acknowledgment they need funding to run for office.

"Raising money is not fun," said Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Goodyear, as he attended a "Hell Week" event staged to benefit him and several other Republican lawmakers. But it's part of the election process, he said.

First-year lawmaker Rep. Analise Ortiz had a similar sentiment.

"Campaigns take money," said Ortiz, D-Phoenix. "I'm very cognizant of who I take money from," she said, adding she won't accept any donations from people who might work to harm the communities she represents.

She was hobnobbing with fellow Democrats and lobbyists at an outdoor fundraiser. Folders labeled with individual lawmakers' names were spread out on a counter so donors could slip in a check, if they chose.

Ortiz, like other lawmakers, said the events are a good way to meet new people, especially those with institutional knowledge.

But she said she wished the state's publicly funded campaign finance system was more robust.

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission provides public money for candidates who raise a threshold amount of money from small-dollar donors. Its influence has waned due to changes in the law and the more generous contributions allowed under private financing.

Reach the reporter at or at 602-228-7566 and follow her on Threads as well as on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter @maryjpitzl.

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