- Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the holding company for Arizona Public Service, spent $10 million on political activities last year, and the biggest chunk went towards the race for new utility commissioners, according to an annual report obtained by Arizona Capitol Times.
- The news outlet reported Pinnacle West gave $4.1 million to Arizona Coalition for Reliable Electricity, an independent expenditure committee formed last year backing Republican candidates Robert Burns, Andy Tobin and Boyd Dunn.
- Notably, Pinnacle West did not release any documents related to previous election cycles, particularly the 2014 regulatory election which saw a fair share of mudslinging and accusations of dark money after a controversial solar policy decision, and continues to dog solar hearings today.
Political spending by Pinnacle West has been a hot topic in recent years, with groups accusing APS of funneling money to independent groups backing favored candidates in 2014. Those allegations, which the utility has neither confirmed nor denied, led Commissioner Burns to call for more transparency as well as for utilities and solar developers to sit out the 2016 election.
That didn't happen: The Arizona Coalition for Reliable Electricity backed all three of the winning candidates. A pair of Democratic challengers, William Mundell and Tom Chabin, were backed by SolarCity.
The call from Burns for a detente in political spending was not difficult for him to make: he was supported by both the solar company and the utility. Last summer, the commissioner issued a subpoena to APS and its parent company digging into whether the companies funded election campaigns for the regulatory commission during the 2014 election cycle.
In return, APS filed a lawsuit against Burns last fall. His colleagues reluctantly agreed to fund a lawyer to defend him in the ensuing court battle, and said he could subpoena APS and Pinnacle West for political financial documents. However, APS quietly dropped its lawsuit this month, leading the ACC to vote 3-1 to fire Burns' lawyer and hindering his ability to collect those subpoenaed documents.
The 2014 election cycle continues to dog Arizona regulators after critics claimed APS funneled $3.2 million into independent groups that supported current Commissioners Doug Little and Tom Forese two years ago.
The other large political spending by Pinnacle West last year went to a nonprofit called Market Freedom Alliance, whose mission is to "educate Arizona citizens on public policy initiatives impacting individuals and businesses, and advocate for policies that promote and foster business growth."
But a recent 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.