Arizona regulators won't require APS to turn over campaign finance records

Dive Brief:

  • Arizona utility regulators voted this week to end legal action prompting utility Arizona Public Service to turn over campaign financing records dating back to 2011, the Arizona Republic reports. 
  • The Arizona Corporation Commission voted 3-1 to allow APS to not comply with subpoenas issued by Commissioner Robert Burns seeking information about the utility's campaign spending and potential outside influences in the regulatory process. 
  • The ACC also voted to fire a lawyer hired for Burns to defend him against a lawsuit filed by APS last year. Burns had sought to use the lawyer to investigate the utility and its parent company, which critics say funneled $3.2 million in funds to independent groups supporting the elections of current Commissioners Doug Little and Forese in 2014. 

Dive Insight:

Arizona regulators voted this week to allow a utility company to not comply with a subpoena for campaign financial records.

The issue dates back to the 2014 election, which followed a broadly-watched and highly-contentious battle over solar net metering. After the vote, critics accused APS of contributing more than $3 million to outside groups to support the election of two regulators seen as friendly to its solar positions. 

To date, the utility has neither denied or confirmed those allegations. 

In 2016, during another regulatory election year, Commissioner Burns (who was also up for reelection) sought to evaluate the possibility of outside influence in the ratemaking process, requesting APS and its parent company Pinnacle West to turn over any political financial documents.  

His fellow commissioners voted to defund his probe, but reluctantly allowed him to hire a lawyer to protect himself from a lawsuit filed by APS after it received the subpoenas. 

But APS quietly dropped its lawsuit against Burns last week, prompting Burns's colleagues to vote to fire the lawyer. Commissioners Tom Forese, Boyd Dunn and Andy Tobin condemned Burns's pursuit of the financial records, calling it a "goose chase," and ordered the staff attorney to see how much Burns spent in forcing APS to comply with his order.  

While APS is regulated by the commission, its parent company Pinnacle West is not, Tobin argued, making it inappropriate for regulators to require it to divulge information. Burns does not appear ready to give up, but his lack of legal help will likely hurt his ability to enforce his subpoenas.

Meanwhile, a settlement and a separate agreement signed by APS and solar companies could put to rest more political mudslinging. APS and solar companies hashed out a plan for alternative rates for rooftop solar and agreed to refrain from undermining it through advocacy at the ACC. 

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Filed Under: Solar & Renewables Regulation & Policy
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