Thursday, June 18, 2015

Follow-up: Arizona Corporation Commission can and should retrieve Stump's email messages

The ACC is getting in over its head in the boiling water of a developing scandal. ACC Commissioner Bob Stump is known to have communicated with a dark money group, candidates for the ACC, and Arizona Public Service. I am guessing that these messages are the ones Stump deleted along with "disposing of" the ACC phone. Now the Sierra Vista Herald editorial board has weighed in.

The Arizona Corporation Commission may have more than angry solar customers to worry about if it someday rules in favor of changing what state utility companies pay to residential customers generating power back to the grid.

Suddenly the ACC finds itself embroiled in a fight with a Washington, D.C.-based organization — the Checks and Balances Project — about whether the state governing agency has been lost to what the group defines as "regulatory capture" by state utilities. The project is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization that advocates for renewable and sustainable energy policies..

Records obtained by the interest group show that the former chairman of the commission, Bob Stump, was in regular contact through his cell phone with the head of a committee that donated several hundred thousand dollars to the campaigns of commission candidates. Text message records show that Chairman Stump was also in contact with both the candidates who received funds from the same committee, and their campaign managers.

That was what was already reported. Following is new information.

Text messages between these parties certainly raise an eyebrow, but without knowing what was being said, former Chairman Stump is only subject to suspicion.

Unless the contents of the text messages can be made public there isn’t any evidence that Stump, or any of the commissioners when they were candidates, did anything wrong or in violation of state laws.

Monday, the Arizona Corporation Commission announced that Stump deleted messages from his state-issued cellphone and that he personally disposed of the phone. Thus, according to the ACC, the text messages cannot be recovered.

Not so fast, responded the Checks and Balances Project.

On its website this week, the group listed software that can be used to recapture deleted text messages and it contacted the cell carrier company that Stump’s phone was using, to confirm that the former chairman’s phone records could be recovered, if the company is subpoenaed.

The "finger trap" that the ACC has found itself caught in stems from an appearance of impropriety.

Regardless whether the state commission believes that this Washington-based group is wrong, an attitude of anything less than cooperation on questions of how public records are handled and whether campaign laws have been violated can’t be tolerated.

The state agency needs to make an honest and public effort to retrieve Stump’s cell phone and review the text messages to clarify its transparency and satisfy public interest.

The ACC has its reputation [to] protect and that isn’t accomplished by failing to pursue the truth.

For those of you who like to read the original report, here is the link to the Checks and Balances Project post along with critical snippets quoted below.

The Arizona constitution empowers the ACC to "act in a Judicial capacity sitting as a tribunal." Chairman Susan Bitter Smith, like all of the members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, has subpoena power. If she really wanted to know if former Chairman Stump was engaged in illegal electioneering prior to the August 26, 2015, GOP primary election, she could subpoena the text message content from Verizon and read what Stump was texting.

Can she get access to the messages? Yes, according to Checks and Balances.

Unless Commissioner Stump has destroyed his phone, removed the SIM (data) card, purposefully deleted texts, or updated the operating system software, the text message content and Gmails that we have requested under the Arizona records act still reside on his phone.

Verizon (Stump's carrier) would be responsive to a subpoena and software exists to retrieve the messages.

The ACC and Stump in particular are in a bind. The preceding snippet indicates the next step if ACC does nothing and tries to stonewall. Stump will forever be under a cloud of suspicion and the ACC, the "fourth branch" of AZ government, will have its reputation tarnished and its credibility forever suspect.

But all this assumes that Stump and his fellow Republican commissioners feel something that is labeled "shame."

I've seen no evidence of that.

h/t Pat Fleming for the Sierra Vista Herald editorial.

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