Utility regulators vote 3–1 to let APS slide on political finance records
Ryan Randazzo , The Republic | azcentral.com
Arizona utility regulators voted 3–1 Tuesday to fire an attorney and allow Arizona Public Service Co. to openly defy one regulator’s orders to provide political finance records.
The five Arizona Corporation Commissioners had a brief, heated discussion over the matter. Commissioner Robert Burns issued subpoenas to APS and its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., last year. The Tuesday vote ends the legal action aimed at making the companies comply with those subpoenas.
Burns wanted to know if the companies were the source of $3.2 million in so-called “dark money” that helped get commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little elected. The money went to independent political campaigns supporting the candidates.
APS previously refrained from participating in the elections of regulators who set the utility’s rates and policies, but in 2014 the company backed off previous pledges of neutrality. The company has not denied it is the source of the funds, though definitive records have never shown the source.
When Burns tried to force the companies to disclose whether they funded the campaigns, the companies sued him in August. Burns’ fellow regulators begrudgingly approved hiring an attorney to defend Burns, although they all went on record as disapproving of his efforts to investigate the political campaigns.
But APS recently dropped its lawsuit of Burns. He and his attorney filed a new lawsuit seeking to enforce the subpoenas and make APS and its parent, Pinnacle West, disclose their political spending. Burns asserts that is his right as a utility regulator in Arizona.
“He has been overtly denied compliance with a lawful order of this commission,” Burns’ lawyer, Bill Richards, said. “Responding to that is appropriate legally. His rights as a commissioner have been subverted and denied so far.”
But the other commissioners do not agree that he has that right. While APS is a regulated utility, the parent company is not. Commissioner Andy Tobin requested the review of the legal fight for Tuesday’s meeting, and called the effort a “goose chase” before joining Chairman Forese and commissioner Boyd Dunn in voting to end the fight.
Little said he sided with the majority, but left the meeting before the vote. Little was chairman when the commission voted to hire an attorney to defend Burns, and he said defending an elected official was the intent.
“I never envisioned a broader proceeding,” said Little.
Forese said defense was the only intent of hiring Richards, and he ordered the commission staff attorney to sort out how much money Burns’ lawyer spent on offense versus defense. Forese suggested Burns be billed for the lawyer’s efforts on offense.
Burns tried to move the vote to next month’s meeting, a courtesy generally given to commissioners when they want an additional month to consider items. But Forese said Burns was only trying to stall and would not allow the delay.
Burns was angered by the break in convention and the move against him.
“This is a weakening of the entire commission’s authority if APS prevails,” he said. “I get out in the public and talk to a number of people. I have not had one person come to me and say you should not be doing this to APS. It has been the opposite. They are encouraging me and encouraging me to get this resolved. APS needs to supply their records.”