Arizona Corporation Commissioner Launches Investigation Into APS' Spending

By  Will Stone
Published: Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 4:35pm
Updated: Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 9:49pm

(Photo courtesy of Arizona Corporation Commission)
Commissioner Bob Burns

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns is done asking nicely. 

After months of back and forth with the state's largest utility, Burns is now launching an investigation into all money — political, lobbying and charitable — spent by Arizona Public Service (APS).

“This is a regulated monopoly, and it’s the responsibility of the commission to oversee their activities and to make sure there’s complete transparency in their actions,” said Burns.

The regulator and APS have been at odds ever since he asked utilities to refrain from financially backing candidates for the commission, which regulates APS. The utility rejected that request, saying such a requirement would "muzzle" its political speech.

Burns' demand for APS to open its books comes in response to more than $3 million in dark money spending during the 2014 election cycle to bolster the candidacies of now commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little. APS and its parent company, Pinnacle West, are widely believed to be behind those contributions.

Along with his effort to halt any future contributions, Burns has been pressing APS to voluntarily reveal any political spending on the last election. The commissioner has said the public is increasingly looking upon the commission with "mistrust" and "suspicion" because of those alleged donations. 

So far APS has rebuffed those efforts.

In December, APS's president and CEO told Burns that compelled disclosure about political contributions goes beyond what Arizona campaign finance law requires and would, “impinge" on the utility's "first amendment rights.” 

In response, Burns is now citing a state law that he said gives him the authority to examine the spending by the utility or one of its affiliates.

"To be clear, unlike my previous communications, this letter is not intended as a request, but is instead a requirement," Burns said. 

In his letter, Burns said specifically he is requiring more information about the two million dollars APS spent on "donations" and the almost three million for "civic, political & related activities" in 2014.

The commissioner said he will wait for a response from APS, but does not plan to wait too long. The issue of regulated monopolies spending large sums of money on commission races is a relatively new development, said Burns, and he "doesn't think it's a good system to have."

On Thursday afternoon, an APS spokesperson said the company is reviewing the letter.

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