Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Godfather's advice to the AZ Corporation Commission: "Don't tell me that you're innocent"

Michael Corleone in The Godfather: "... don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry. Now, who approached you first?" Arizona Public Service or the dark money guy Sean Noble?

OK - I added the last part. But that is the theme of the editorial in The Republic/azcentral.com directed at the AZ Corporation Commission: stop insulting us. It is hard-hitting. You should read it. Here are some teasers.

The Arizona Corporation Commission has the power – the constitutionally explicit, well-documented power – to require the utilities it regulates to open their books, to divulge spending.

Yes, it does. Article 15 of the Arizona Constitution, Section 4 is quite clear.

Section 4. The corporation commission, and the several members thereof, shall have power to inspect and investigate the property, books, papers, business, methods, and affairs of any corporation whose stock shall be offered for sale to the public and of any public service corporation doing business within the state, and for the purpose of the commission, and of the several members thereof, shall have the power of a court of general jurisdiction to enforce the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence by subpoena, attachment, and punishment, which said power shall extend throughout the state. Said commission shall have power to take testimony under commission or deposition either within or without the state.

The Commission's seeking legal counsel on this matter is just plain silly - or cowardly - or a reflection of the deep, corrupting influence of dark money. But back to the ACC's powers and the azcentral editorial.

Yet Forese and Little – indeed, all five members of the all-Republican commission -- are in open resistance against efforts to make public that spending. It is getting embarrassing.

Actually, it is insulting.

No one is attempting to limit APS’s speech. They are seeking openness, which is perfectly compatible with the Arizona Corporation Commission’s regulatory mission, to say nothing of the free-speech tenets at the heart of the recent high-court decision on campaign finance law.

The Citizens United Supreme Court decision devoted nearly half of its text to the importance of disclosure. Justice Antonin Scalia, an ardent member of the majority, has said, repeatedly, that disclosure of the sources of funding is critical to public confidence in its election system. From a 2012 interview:

"I think Thomas Jefferson would have said the more speech, the better. That’s what the First Amendment is all about – so long as the people know where the speech is coming from (emphasis added)."

Again, the explicit mission of the commission is to examine the books of the utilities it regulates in service of setting rates. There is no "political campaign spending" exemption. Separately or a group, the commissioners can – and, needless to say, should – demand that APS open its books to the campaign-finance pages.

The Editorial Board concludes:

The most valuable asset of the five-member Arizona Corporation Commission is its independence.

This continuing defensive action on behalf of the largest utility the commission regulates is threatening that asset. The wonder is just how oblivious this commission is to the danger it now faces.

They, the Commissioners, are not oblivious to this: "Ya gotta dance with them that brung ya." These five Republicans are actors in a slow-motion picture showing the collapse of public trust in a branch of AZ government because of dark money.

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