Arizona Regulator Taps Prominent Attorney To Investigate Outside Utility Influence

By  Will Stone
Published: Tuesday, August 2, 2016 - 2:25pm
Updated: Wednesday, August 3, 2016 - 9:53am

(Photo courtesy of Arizona Corporation Commission)
Commissioner Bob Burns

An Arizona regulator has hired a prominent attorney to investigate what utilities or others could be doing to influence policy decisions by his agency. 

On Tuesday, Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns announced the hire of Scott Hempling, who has advised other state utility commissions on such matters and is a law professor at Georgetown University. 

Commissioner Burns said this will be a broad inquiry into how the actions of stakeholders – public utilities, solar leasing companies, fellow commissioners and others – could be undermining public trust. 

“We are trying to get a big picture, if you will, about what is happening that could lead to undue influence or advantage of the utility over the ratepayers,” Burns told KJZZ.

The catalyst for the investigation is the alleged $3 million  in dark money spending by Arizona Public Service or its parent company on commission races during the 2014 cycle. The utility has neither denied nor confirmed whether it is behind the contributions. 

For months, Burns has asked APS and Pinnacle West to reveal those records, but without success. A recent Arizona attorney general’s opinion held that Burns does have subpoena power to demand some of that information. Burns says getting to the bottom of this issue will likely be a "critical" piece of Hempling's work, and he believes the state constitution enables just one commissioner to go after those records.

The other commissioners have not supported Burns’ efforts. APS CEO Don Brandt has maintained that it does not need to disclose any possible spending on commission races. 

Hempling's analysis is due by mid-December and will provide recommendations as well as a "legal work product, in terms of actions that can be taken by all participants."

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