Brief

Arizona regulator asks APS to disclose political spending

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported there are allegations that APS contributed $3.2 million to the campaigns of ACC commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little. That is incorrect. Little and Forese ran as "Clean Elections" candidates under Arizona law, meaning they are not allowed to receive money from corporations and independent political action committees. The allegations were raised in a filing with the ACC by former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman and an attorney representing former ACC commissioners Bill Mundell and Renz Jennings and solar company Sunrun. The filing claims that Forese and Little "were the beneficiaries of $3.2 million in election support that is generally and objectively believed to have come from, on behalf of, or at the direction of, Arizona Public Service (“APS”) or its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corporation (“Pinnacle West”)."

Dive Brief:

  • Commissioner Robert Burns of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) wrote to Pinnacle West CEO Don Brandt asking that its subsidiary, Arizona Public Service (APS), fully disclose its spending in the 2014 election, the Mohave Valley Daily News reported. 
  • Allegations were raised in a September ACC filing by former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman and an attorney representing former ACC commissioners Bill Mundell and Renz Jennings and solar company Sunrun that Tom Forese and Doug Little, then-candidates for the ACC, were "the beneficiaries of $3.2 million in election support that is generally and objectively believed to have come from, on behalf of, or at the direction of, Arizona Public Service (“APS”) or its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corporation (“Pinnacle West”)."
  • Commissioner Burns’ letter argued disclosure would not interfere with the First Amendment rights of APS but would offer transparency for its customers. The letter requested that a response be publicly filed with the commission within 30 days.

Dive Insight:

APS has refused to confirm or deny contributions to Forese and Little, which has spurred Burns to push for disclosure ahead of the 2016 elections. “Your unwillingness to disclose this information leads to a variety of unfortunate perceptions,” Commissioner Burns wrote to Brandt.

Burns is requesting disclosure from APS, Pinnacle West’s regulated utility subsidiary, to allay public “suspicion and mistrust.” Furthermore, he said, Arizona’s Constitution allows the ACC to obtain records from the parent company. Burns' goal is to determine if ratepayer money was used. “I would like to ensure that only APS’s profits are being used for political speech,” he wrote.

Controversy has consumed the ACC since the election of Forese and Little. Former commissioners and solar advocates asked them to recuse themselves on APS-related decisions, but they refused. Commissioner Bob Stump has been investigated for ties to APS and critical remarks against rooftop solar, had his cell phone data requested, and was also asked to recuse himself, but refused as well.

Meanwhile, the state Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a petition in the Arizona Supreme Court, requesting to remove ACC Chair Susan Bitter Smith for an alleged conflict of interest. The petition alleges that Bitter Smith accepts remuneration for lobbying on behalf of the Southwest Cable Communications Association and Cox Communications, which provide services regulated by the ACC. Bitter Smith argues the charge is based on a very broad interpretation of “conflict of interest."

 

Filed Under: Regulation & Policy
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