KJZZ has the short version.
Arizona’s largest utility and its parent company will not stop making campaign contributions in the races for Arizona Corporation Commission [ACC].
Commissioners Bob Burn and Susan Bitter Smith had asked that the public service companies they regulate voluntarily refrain from financially backing candidates for the office. The impetus was the ongoing controversy over $3 million in "dark money" contributions in last year’s election, which is widely believed to have come from Arizona Public Service [APS] and Pinnacle West Capital.
On Friday, the companies' CEO Donald Brandt filed a letter with the commission flatly rejecting the suggestion by Burns and Bitter Smith that such activity undermines public trust in the commission. He contends that would "muzzle" the utility's political speech, even as others continue to pour money into elections. Brandt adds that commissioners are elected through a democratic process, and he does not believe they would base decisions affecting Arizona citizens on anything other than the evidence submitted to them.
So far, more than half a dozen companies have stated that they will not make contributions in future corporation commission elections.
Commissioners Tom Forese, Doug Little and Bob Stump have all raised objections to Burns' and Bitter Smith's request.
More on these guys below.
It is "troubling," we are told, that anyone could possibly think that members of the Arizona Corporation Commission [ACC] could be bought.
"Troubling" that anyone could call into question the integrity of the five-member commission that sets utilities’ profits – and the size of your electric bill.
So says the head of Arizona Public Service [APS], the regulated utility widely believed to have secretly spent $3.2 million last year to ensure that its favored candidates became its regulators.
Don Brandt, in a letter to the commission filed Friday, spends two-and-one-half pages extolling the virtues of political speech and the utility’s First Amendment right to use "all lawful means" to get its views out there.
"All lawful means" being code for the right to covertly spend millions of dollars to get you to vote for the slate of candidates most likely to fall in line with the electric company – without, of course, telling you that this is the slate of candidates most likely to fall in line with the electric company.
And indeed they do. The two commissioners elected with the (presumed) help of APS money do tend to vote with Bob Stump in matters affecting APS.
In the current context, Brandt's letter to the ACC can be understood as a defense of dark money influence in elections. Or perhaps it is just intended to defect criticism from the commissioners who vote on what APS wants.
"The Companies (APS and its parent, Pinnacle West)," he wrote, "flatly reject any suggestion that Commissioners would base decisions affecting the well-being of the state’s citizens other than on the evidence submitted to them, or would otherwise compromise his or her oath of office."
Well if that's really what he believes, why then would APS spend $3.2 million on an election?
The other possibility is to question the premise and conclude that Brandt does not believe that at all.
The solution to all this is for the APS and the ACC both to do a data dump. APS has so far been unwilling to bare its books (perhaps because the ACC is dragging its corporate clogs and not asking for that). And there still remains the issue of Stump's texting to APS lobbyists and to those two now elected commissioners - and what was in those texts. Bobby boy remains coy about that.
... the idea of requiring APS to open its books so that we can judge for ourselves the motivations of those on the commission? That’s not only a good one – it’s an essential one if this commission wants the residents of Arizona to believe that they are getting a fair shake.
Again, question the premise. Does the commission really care?