Friday, July 3, 2015

Stumped by Stump's Stunts? Here's the latest rundown on the Corporation Commission texting scandal.

Can't resist: Bobghazi, Bobghazi!

This is a very long post with several citations to other media and blog sources. For that I apologize. This post will get us up to date on this scandal and I will then stay on it with shorter updates. Promise. Here we go.

Here are some reminders about the background on the matter of Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) member (and former ACC chair) Bob Stump's communications with a lobbyist, Republican candidates for ACC, and dark money operative.

Prior to the 2014 election Stump sent many text messages using an ACC iPhone. The details of those messages including phone numbers, but not the content, were obtained by the watchdog group, Checks and Balances Project (CBP). Then started a battle royale between the ACC and CBP. ACC refuses to share the phone with CBP and claims the texts of the messages do not exist. CBP counters that ACC could get those messages from Verizon by subpoena. In the latest bout, Stump has complained to the media that CBP is cherry-picking the messages. CBP replied by publishing the entire listing of Stump's text messages and their phone numbers. Stump decried the invasion of his privacy. CBP dug in and laid the blame on ACC's refusal to go after the content of Stump's text messages.

To get a full appreciation for this battle, you need to read the most recent articles and posts.

I am usually squarely in Laurie Roberts' corner, but not this time. She writes about the CBP release.

The central question: Was Stump acting as a go-between between APS, two APS-favored commission candidates, and a dark money group that is widely believed to have campaigned for those candidates using funds quietly supplied by APS?

If so, that would be a no-no.

Even if not, the sheer number of texts calls into question Stump's seemingly cozy relationship with the utility he's supposed to be regulating.

But publishing every phone number the guy ever texted?

I'm with Stump on this one. That was out of line and it borders on being a bully.

But the release of the lists happened for two reasons. (1) ACC is stonewalling both on the phone and on getting at the content of those messages - the messages from Stump to the lobbyist and candidates and dark money guy. (2) Stump pulled a PR stunt by complaining about "cherry-picking."

So CBP responded in this way.

In response to the Chairman’s [Stump's] concerns, we have published the full text log and names identified to date here.

Far from clearing Commissioner Stump, the full logs show a more damning fact set, particularly an overlap of texting with dark money electoral group head Scot Mussi, APS lobbyist Barbara Lockwood, Koch Industries operative Sean Noble, and then-candidate (now Commissioner) Tom Forese, and more.

The best we can tell, that’s why Commissioner Stump is now attempting to switch the subject with a victim play by railing about the opposite of "cherry picking," the publishing of the full text logs.

According to Chairman Stump in today’s Arizona Republic story by Ryan Randazzo, the act of publishing the public records what we were given by the Commission is an invasion of his privacy and an "out of bounds" attack on his family members.

CBP then advises Stump to check out the "inconvenient facts" before continuing in the victim role. The list of such facts is here. CBP concludes:

Probably the most important fact is that all of this back-and-forth is unnecessary, including the Commission’s hiring of an outside, taxpayer-funded attorney, David Cantelme; and an outside PR firm (we are investigating the hiring of these outside firms and their costs to Arizonans).

This is a straightforward matter with a straightforward resolution. The Commission already has the subpoena power to ask Verizon to provide the text messages that we are told don’t exist. In fact, in all likelihood, they do.

With literally a phone call and the strike of a "send" button, the ACC could have the list of text messages and provide them to us.

Finally, I would like to thank all the citizens who are stepping forward to help us identify the unknown parties with whom Commissioner Stump had been exchanging text messages. More about that soon.

Obviously CBP questions Stump's credibility. Here is one reason why.

Mr. Stump has strained credulity by claiming that he needed over 70 text messages with dark money electoral group director, Scot Mussi, to arrange a trip to the symphony.

But, hey! My wife says she can dream up 70 questions about the symphony. Sure. She might get to 69 but would never get to 70.

Today, CBP countered ACC by suggesting an unimpeachable expert to dig into Stump's phone.

Peterson and his attorney, Dan Barr, said they found a better expert willing to examine Stump's phone: Kathy Enriquez, a Phoenix Police Department detective.

"Detective Enriquez spends the majority of her time at the Phoenix Police Department's Laboratory Services Bureau extracting data from cell phones," Barr wrote to the commission. "She is widely recognized as a top expert in the field and has provided instruction to the FBI in the area of digital forensic work."

Barr also said he contacted Enriquez and that she was willing to participate.

The stakes are high.

Accessing the text messages would answer several questions related to Stump's communications.

The text logs show Stump communicated with two candidates for the commission, Tom Forese and Doug Little, as well as the head of an independent group that spent money supporting those candidates.

Campaign laws prohibit candidates from coordinating with such independent "dark-money" groups, and the Checks and Balances Project has suggested Stump could have been acting as a go-between for the group.

Stump's text log also showed he communicated during the election season with an official from Arizona Public Service Co. The electric utility is regulated by the commission and is widely believed to have donated money to dark-money groups that supported Forese and Little, who won their elections.

Without the actual content of the text messages, it is impossible to determine whether Stump was merely communicating with friends, as he has said, or helping coordinate campaign spending, as Checks and Balances suggests.

The text messages also could answer whether Stump broke commission rules over communications with companies with business at the commission that is scheduled for a hearing.

This one is not going away. Stay tuned.

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