- Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) member Bob Burns has sent a letter to the head of the state's largest electric utility demanding to see details on public electoral contributions that could have impacted elections, including contests for ACC seats.
- Capitol Media Services reports Burns is up for reelection this year. In 2014, there were allegations that dominant utility Arizona Public Service (APS) donated money to nonprofits that supported a pair of ACC candidates. Burns previously asked APS to voluntarily refrain from making contributions this year.
- Burns said that state law is on his side: "To be clear, unlike my previous communications, this letter is not intended as a request, but is instead a requirement," he wrote in the letter. APS is reviewing the letter now.
In 2014, two groups – Save Our Future Now and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club – donated more than $3 million to support the ACC campaigns of Tom Forese and Doug Little, Capitol Media Services reports. APS has neither confirmed nor denied whether it donated $2 million to those groups, but both candidates won seats on the regulatory body.
Commissioner Burns said that he "believe[s] that as a regulator regulating a monopoly utility we have to have access to records in order to do our job, period, as far as ratemaking and everything else... Every penny (of political contributions) basically flows from a rate."
The Jan. 28 letter to APS Chairman Don Brandt calls for a broad review of the company's contributions. The letter follows on the heels of another one Burns sent in December requesting that APS to disclose their political spending.
"In the current political climate, there is a public perception that APS has used funds earmarked for its cost of service to support various political campaigns," Burns wrote. He called for an examination of all of the company's donations, including political contributions, lobbying efforts and charitable giving.
"We are reviewing the letter," an APS spokesperson told Capitol Media Services. The news outlet reports that APS's Brandt told Burns the utility won't voluntarily give up that information in a letter last month.
The news outlet points out that if Burns is forced to go to court over the issue, he may require a majority of the ACC to move ahead. Burns conceded that it's unclear if he could get such a majority in the five member commission, especially given the allegations surrounding two of its members.
Last year, Burns joined former ACC Chairwoman Susan Bitter Smith in opening a generic docket calling for a policy prohibiting campaign donations from utilities and "unregulated entities that appear before the Commission" to refrain from contributing money "in support of or in opposition to" ACC candidates. Burns filed his letter last week in the docket, which remains open.
Burns himself has also been investigated for ties to a telecommunications trade group that still listed him as a lobbyist, despite the regulator's claim that he cut ties with the group before joining the ACC. The state's Attorney General Mark said he will not seek to remove Burns because of these alleged ties, the Arizona Republic reports.