Wednesday, September 9, 2015

AZ Corporation Commission and dark money: half-hearted proposals for half measures has a report on the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) attempts to control dark money in elections of ACC Commissioners.

Utility regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission asked Tuesday for a legal opinion from their staff about dark-money political contributions that utilities could be making toward the campaigns of candidates who, if elected, will set their rates.

Fine, but let's look at the background on those contributions.

Three of the sitting commissioners, Bitter Smith, Burns and Bob Stump, were elected in 2012 with the help of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry with money from Arizona Public Service Co. and Southwest Gas Corp., both of which are regulated by the commissioners.

More on the Chamber of Commerce in a moment.

The other two commissioners, Tom Forese and Doug Little, were elected last year with the help of $3.2 million in independent political campaigns widely believed to be financed with so-called dark-money from APS.

APS and chamber officials said the 2012 funds that went to the commission race were an accident. At the time, APS and Southwest Gas said their policy was to abstain from participating in regulatory races.

APS no longer takes that position. APS doesn’t deny funding the 2014 political groups that helped Forese and Little and will say only that it is politically active. The political groups don’t have to disclose their donors.

So the score is 5/5 Commissioners elected by dark money. Does anyone think that their heart is in a reform effort?

And there is another motivation for them to take, at best, half measures. The AZ Chamber of Corruption (oops, Commerce) wants no measures at all. Here are snippets from an op-ed by Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry appearing in the AZ Capitol Times.

The proposal by Bitter Smith and Burns seeks to expand the reach of the ACC far beyond anything contemplated by the state Constitution and, much as we saw in the case of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, ventures into a regulatory space already under the oversight of the secretary of state and, for enforcement matters, the attorney general. Even more disturbing about the action by Bitter Smith and Burns, however, is the significant impact the ACC can have on a business’ bottom line. Once again, a broad coalition of business organizations has weighed in in opposition to this proposal to chill constitutionally protected free speech.

That proposal by Bitter Smith and Burns is a half measure. It calls for voluntary restraint and the Chamber thinks that even that is unacceptable.

... on the ACC’s September 8-9 meeting agenda is a docket opened by commissioners Susan Bitter Smith and Bob Burns that would inject the ACC into the regulation of electoral politics. Commissioners Bitter Smith and Burns are requesting that "public service corporations and unregulated entities that appear before the commission agree to voluntarily refrain from making contributions in support of or in opposition to Corporation Commission candidates." ...

Molly Ivins once observed that "ya gotta dance with them that brung ya". The ACC is dancing. And the Chamber's members by defending dark money are doing the choreography.

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