- The Federal Bureau of Investigation spent 82 minutes last week interviewing the head of the Checks and Balances Project, a nonprofit public watchdog group that has criticized the election of two Arizona utility regulators in 2014, the Arizona Republic reports.
- The questioning was part of an FBI investigation, started last month, into the 2014 cycle, when Arizona Public Service Co. allegedly gave money to two independent political groups that supported candidates for the Arizona Corporation Commission. The utility neither denied or confirmed those allegations.
- The FBI has also interviewed Arizona Corporation Commission officials, former Commissioner Gary Pierce and APS executives as part of a "long-term investigation related to the financing of certain statewide races in the 2014 election cycle," special agent Matthew Reinsmoen told the Arizona Republic in June.
The Arizona Corporation Commission continues to face scrutiny over its relationship with utilities, including claims APS contributed more than $3 million to outside groups supporting the election of ACC Commissioner Tom Forese and Chairman Doug Little.
The allegations, raised formally in an Sept. 2015 ACC filing, are now the subject of an FBI inquiry on the financing of certain statewide races in 2014.
The FBI interviewed Checks and Balances Director Scott Peterson, but also noted that it was Peterson who requested the meeting, according the Arizona Republic. The group often requests public records related to what they believe is an improper relationship between the ACC and utilities.
Peterson has previously said he believes ACC Commissioner Bob Stump was involved in coordinating funding between the utility and the campaigns they supported, the paper reported.
Checks and Balances' public records investigation last year sought 3,598 text messages from Commissioner Bob Stump to 18 individuals between mid-2014 and early 2015. After the Arizona Attorney General’s office retrieved 36 of the messages and found them blank, an Arizona judge ruled the texts are not public records.
Stump has described the group's tactics a "witch hunt" largely based around the the Checks and Balances group's interest in maintaining Arizona's net metering rules, a fundamental part of solar companies' business model.
Last year, Checks and Balances pushed for release of text messages between Stump, executives at APS and the head of a political group connected to the utility. The group also highlighted the relationship between a cable company and ACC Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith. Bitter Smith later resigned.
SolarCity had been critical of APS for supporting outside political groups, but last December confirmed it had helped fund Checks and Balances as it pursued its campaigns against members of the commission. SolarCity has since ended its support for the Checks and Balances Project, a move that occurred when former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff came onboard as the solar company's new chief policy officer in April.
Stump criticised the group, saying he found it "astonishing that the biggest U.S. provider of rooftop solar power is funding the effort to harass regulators whose decisions affect their bottom lines."