Attorneys tussle over Arizona regulator's pursuit of APS campaign finance records

Dive Brief:

  • Attorneys for Arizona Public Service and state regulator Robert Burns faced off in court last week, arguing the legitimacy of a subpoena requesting campaign finance records dating back to 2011.
  • The Arizona Corporation Commission voted 3-1 to allow APS to not comply with subpoenas issued by Commissioner Burns seeking information about the utility's campaign spending.
  • The Arizona Daily Sun reports attorneys for Burns and APS subsequently clashed  in the Maricopa County Superior Court, with the utility arguing that the regulator needs support from other commission members to issue a subpoena.

Dive Insight:

Burns has never had support of his fellow commission members in his quixotic quest for the APS campaign finance records he is doggedly pursuingdespite the fact that he benefited from their election efforts, as the utility supported a slate of Republican ACC candidates during this round of regulatory elections. 

The fight dates back to the 2014 election, which followed a contentious debate over the state's net metering poltiyc. After the votes were cast, critics said APS' parent company contributed $3.2 million to independent groups supporting the election bids of two regulators,Tom Forese and Doug Little. 

The utility has neither denied or confirmed those allegations, and the bitterness from the 2014 election cycle continues to crop up in current solar policy debates. Burns last year pressed for the records to be made public, subpoenaing Pinnacle West, APS' parent company, for its financial records dating back to 2011.

While Burns' fellow commissioners voted to defund his probe, the commission last year hired a lawyer to defend him against an APS lawsuit. But APS later withdrew its lawsuit, compelling the ACC to vote to fire Burns' lawyer.

While APS is regulated by the commission, its parent company Pinnacle West is not, fellow Commissioner Andy 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. 

Arizona Daily Sun has the details on court arguments that took place last week. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Kiley has yet to rule on the validity of Burns' subpoena.

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Filed Under: Regulation & Policy