Wednesday, December 2, 2015

AZ Corporation Commission in the news: "ethical questions and political ramifications"

In the Daily Star this morning, Tim Steller's column provides a (very good) "rundown of the commissioners, all Republicans, the ethical questions they face, and the political ramifications of those questions."

Also in the Star this morning are two reports reprinted from the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required).

GOP head: Bitter Smith should consider resigning

The head of the state Republican Party said Tuesday that Susan Bitter Smith should consider resigning from the Arizona Corporation Commission rather than fighting the bid by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to have her ousted from office.

Robert Graham told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday he has been discussing the conflict of interest allegations with Bitter Smith ever since they were first raised several months ago. He said she told him she "felt very comfortable" that nothing would come of them.

But that was before Brnovich on Monday asked the Arizona Supreme Court to rule she is holding office illegally because she lobbies on behalf of telephone providers regulated by the commission.

That led to another conversation Monday afternoon.

"We talked about the changing dynamics and how it puts things in a very different perspective now," he said.

Corporation Commissioner asks APS to disclose campaign spending

Here are snippets from one version of the report (in the Capitol Times).

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns today [Nov. 30] asked Arizona Public Service to provide a report of all its spending on the 2014 elections.

Burns, in a letter filed to a commission docket, said he’s concerned the utility may be using ratepayer funds to pay for its election activities.

"I would like to ensure that only APS’s profits are being used for political speech. Simply put, dollars that APS has received from ratepayers in order to recover the costs of providing utility service should not be used for political speech. Unfortunately, I have thus far seen no evidence that such funds are not being spent on political speech," Burns wrote.

Burns is asking APS to provide him with a report of "all spending related in any way to the 2014 election cycle-including but not limited to direct contributions and indirect contributions to third-party organizations" within 30 days. The report should also detail the source of funds, noting whether the money comes from profits or money the utility is supposed to use to cover their costs for providing electricity.

Burns wrote that he doesn’t want to tread on any First Amendment rights, but thinks the utility needs to disclose its spending on elections.

"Intuitively, I understand that you have an interest in supporting candidates who may agree with your views. However, in my opinion, your support for any particular candidate should be open and transparent. Your unwillingness to disclose this information leads to a variety of unfortunate perceptions," Burns wrote.

APS spokesman Jim McDonald said the company is "evaluating the letter from Commissioner Burns."

I bet they are. Here is why.

Though Burns said he believes the commission has the authority to subpoena both APS and Pinnacle West, he said he will focus on APS at this time.

Scriber hopes Burns will stop "asking" and start subpoena-ing.

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