Saturday, August 29, 2015

Corporation Commissioners address alleged spending on campaigns by utilities

But only two of the five are (finally!) taking some action. About the other three? Well, as you should know, they are part of the problem. Scriber is not optimistic about them signing onto any investigation that might be definitive with respect to their actions during the last election. But here is the story reported by Howard Fischer of the Capitol Times in the Daily Star.

Two state utility regulators want the Arizona Corporation Commission to adopt a formal policy urging utilities to stay out of future races for the panel.

And if the request doesn’t stop the money, they may seek an audit of affected companies to find out exactly how they’re spending their money on politics.

Urging utilities? Future races? May seek an audit? Come on, ACC. Do the audit now!

In pushing the plan, Chairwoman Susan Bitter Smith and member Bob Burns cited media reports of the apparent involvement of Arizona Public Service and Pinnacle West Capital Corp., its parent, in trying to elect two specific Republicans [Commissioners Forese and Little] in the 2014 race by funneling money through outside groups.

APS officials have refused to confirm or deny donations to Save Our Future Now or the Free Enterprise Club, which together spent more than $3 million for commission candidates they supported and against those they oppose. Those groups, in turn, have refused to reveal donors, contending they are "social welfare" groups exempt from state disclosure laws.

To add insult to stonewalling, APS responds with a mountain of B. S.

... company spokesman Alan Bunnell has said APS has been the subject of a "nonstop propaganda war" by pro-solar advocates, saying they have "misrepresented important Arizona energy issues" to further their own interests.

So what comes next?

... in the draft letter, which [Burns and Bitter Smith] want the full commission to adopt as policy, they said that the "right to participate" that APS claims is not the issue. It’s more about appearance.

"We want to make it clear that we view it as unacceptable and inappropriate for public service corporations and unregulated entities to make campaign contributions in support of or in opposition to any candidate for the Corporation Commission," they said in the proposed letter that they want the full commission to essentially adopt as policy and send to utilities. "This behavior has the strong potential to diminish the integrity of the commission and to engender public doubt as to the commission’s ability to discharge its regulatory responsibilities in a fair and unbiased way."

Potential to diminish integrity? Don't look now, but you are already there - it's not about potential - it's now about reality. Consider:

Those questions already have been raised with the 3-2 vote earlier this month allowing APS to seek higher charges from customers who also have solar cells on their roofs, with Burns and Bitter Smith opposed. But it carried with support from Tom Forese and Doug Little, both elected last year with large outside donations from the two "dark money" groups, and Bob Stump, whose cellphone texts around the time of the GOP primary to the pair and APS executives are being probed.

I don't have great expectations about the success of getting these three to admit to their own involvement with APS and the dark money groups in the last election. But Burns and Bitter Smith (appear to) soldier on.

Bitter Smith said she and Burns believe the first step is getting the issue discussed by fellow regulators.

"It would just be a productive opportunity for the commission to collectively articulate what we think the role of entities that appear in front of the commission should have in upcoming elections," she told Capitol Media Services. Bitter Smith said that has to be done formally, as any three of the five commissioners chatting together about such issues would be a violation of the Open Meetings Law.

A commission vote on whether to adopt the letter as policy is set for discussion this coming month.

And the reaction of the other three commissioners?

Forese said his vote [on the APS solar rate increase] had nothing to do with any campaign contributions.

Little declined to discuss the proposal, saying through a spokesman he wants more time to study it. Stump did not respond to messages seeking comment.

I have a measuring device that seems appropo. My Pessimeter is about at maximum. (I checked the other device; the Optimeter reading is in the tank.)

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