Friday, May 11, 2018

Let's clean house at the Arizona Corporation Commission

You cannot turn on the TV or open up a newspaper these days without running into scandal after scandal coming from an administration headed by the dotard who ran on the promise to “drain the swamp.” There’s already been a lot of reporting about how that promise was not only broken but the “swamp” (aka White House) has become deeper and smellier in large part because of all the President’s men (and some women too). So, rather than the rehash those reports, I’ll let AZBlueMeanie carry the weight on this one today in The Trump Swamp: ‘pay to play’ corruption. Instead, I’ll devote my effort this morning to a more local scandal involving what is often called the 4th branch of AZ government, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC).

Last Sunday, the Green Valley News published my op-ed IN MY VIEW: Pay attention to the ‘18 ACC race. The original title was: “Let’s Clean House at the Arizona Corporation Commission”. (I leave it to your judgment as to the better title - just read the article first. Below are some highlights.

Because the ACC is so consequential for Arizonans, it is upsetting to find the ACC and its commissioners exposed to charges of corruption, subject to a federal investigation, and suspect of collusion with the utilities it regulates. Here are themes I extracted from numerous reports in the media.

•FBI investigating outside money in commission election.

•Former ACC chair indicted on federal charges of bribery, fraud and conspiracy.

•Utility regulated by ACC currently being investigated for spending dark money in commission campaigns.

•Commissioners approved a basic rate hike granting that same utility another $95 million even though their staff determined rates should not be increased.

•Former commissioner resigned, charged with conflicts of interest.

•ACC commissioners voted against transparency in utility political expenditures.

Here is an update on the top items in my list from the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required), Bribery case witness list includes elected officials past and present.

The witness list for the bribery case against Gary and Sherry Pierce, Jim Norton and George Johnson is a who’s who of Arizona politics.

Former Arizona Corporation Commission officials, past and current legislators and candidates for elected office are among the 82 potential witnesses in the federal bribery case.

Former Commissioner Pierce, his wife Sherry, the lobbyist Norton and the owner of Johnson Utilities face charges of felony conspiracy, bribery, mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud. Each defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges in June. The trial is currently scheduled to begin on May 30, and a final pretrial conference is slated for May 14.

The indictment alleged the defendants conspired for Johnson to pay the Pierces through the Nortons in exchange for Pierce’s favorable votes at the Corporation Commission. Pierce and his wife allegedly received $31,500 from Johnson.

As for [ACC Commissioner] Bob Burns, the defense has questioned his character instead, referring to him as a “rogue commissioner” who’s determined to “burn down the house” at the Commission.

The defense’s claims are totally disingenuous. What the defense is referring to in this case is that Burns has been trying to shed light on the dark money spent in the 2014 election by Arizona Public Service and its parent company Pinnacle West. He is “rogue” only because he is the only commissioner who really gives a sh!t about who is buying our elections. His efforts to get APS and Pinnacle West to open their books is being defeated by the other commissioners in spite of his constitutional authority to do so.

I ended my GV News op-ed with a plea to clean house at ACC and a public service announcement.

The issues I raise will not resolve on their own. We need to elect a new set of commissioners and 2018 is the year to do it. Some of the candidates for election to the ACC will appear in Green Valley this month.

Candidate forum

The public is invited to attend the Democratic Candidates Arizona Corporation Commission Forum on May 20 at 1:30 in the Quail Creek Ballroom. Candidates include Bill Mundell, Sandra Kennedy, Paul Newman, Kiana Sears and Jake Bell.

Please attend, and then vote for candidates with integrity and public service experience.

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