Top Headline, September 14th

in the news

4d37566012d17.image Excerpt from Green Valley News (9/12/15): “EDITORIAL: State utility drama is pure Shakespeare”

To date this drama has included lots of true-life intrigue. After a records request by Checks and Balances, commission chairman Bob Stump was found to have destroyed his cell phone, which may or may not have had incriminating text messages that may or may not have coordinated campaign donations totalling millions of dollars to two of the ACC members elected last year — Doug Little and Tom Forese.

The situation has prompted the other two members of the commission — Bob Burns and Susan Bitter Smith — to make a public call for all utilities and interest groups to decide voluntarily not to contribute to future ACC candidate elections.

Top Headlines, September 1st

in the news

azcentral

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/31/15): “Our View: Quit whining, commissioners, and do the job”:

Now comes something else uncorked by the busy folks at Checks & Balances:Commission Chairwoman Susan Bitter Smith has been moonlighting at her old job ever since her 2012 election.

Make that “jobs.” Bitter Smith has remained executive director of a cable-industry trade group. And she has retained interest in the public-relations firm that at times has lobbied the Corporation Commission on behalf of certain clients.

Bitter Smith’s response? The complaints are coming from “East Coast liberal solar groups,” aka the Checks & Balances Project of Washington, D.C.

Let us cut to the chase here. Bitter Smith was elected to a full-time job that pays her $80,000 annually, plus expenses, including a travel budget. That salary may be less than half what she gets from the cable-industry trade group, but no one pulled her by the ear to the Secretary of State’s office, forcing her to sign up for this lesser-paying gig as corporation commissioner.

evt

Excerpt from the East Valley Tribune (8/29/15): “For Arizona GOP, party and power are all that matter”:

A group called the Checks and Balances Project is inquiring into Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump’s text communications with campaigns and the utilities he regulates. As a result, Republicans have launched an attack ad trying to discredit the investigation through good ol’ fashioned shooting the messenger.

Not surprising, Republicans took flak for their recent hit piece. In response to the criticism, state GOP Chairman Robert Graham defended his party’s actions saying, “That’s what the Republican Party does for Republican officeholders.”

 The job of a political party is to provide leadership, not a criminal defense in the court of public opinion. As is painfully obvious in Graham’s letter, the GOP’s only interest is to create misdirection.

Top Headline, August 24

in the news

Excerpt from KJZZ (8/24/15): “Utility Regulator’s Business Ties Called Into Question” :

Bitter_Smith

Bitter Smith, a Republican, is a registered lobbyist for Cox Communications, a status she’s held long before her 2012 election to the commission.

Cox is regulated for cable by the Federal Communications Commission and local municipalities. But because it also offers telephone services, Cox is regulated by the corporation commission, which oversees the local telecommunications industry.

That caught the eye of a Washington D.C. watchdog group called the Checks and Balances Project, which has been in a highly publicized struggle with the commission this year for access to Commissioner Bob Stump’s cell phone records.

Checks and Balances raised conflict questions about Bitter Smith to KJZZ, which then conducted independent research and reporting that included a review of various public documents, tax records and interviews with Bitter Smith, former commissioners, a former attorney general, and various ethics and Constitutional law experts and attorneys.

Top Headline, August 18th, 2015

azcentral

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/17/15): “Our View: Can commissioners be bought? Here’s a test” 

The moment of truth — consideration of a fee increase for rooftop-solar customers of Arizona Public Service — is upon Arizona’s all-Republican Corporation Commission.

The moment is an uncomfortable one. Two of the sitting commissioners are widely believed to have enjoyed as much as $3.2 million in “dark money” campaign support last year from APS, and more than a few critics suspect the utility tail is wagging the regulatory dog….

They are not the only commissioners compromised by events from last year’s campaigns.

A Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group has been struggling for months to obtain text messages from the cellphone of another commissioner, Bob Stump, who the group suspects may have acted as an intermediary between the independent campaign groups and the GOP candidates.

Top Video Headline, August 17, 2015

Video from 12 News (8/14/15).

Top Headlines, August 17, 2015

in the news

herald

Excerpt from The Sierra Vista Herald (8/13/15): “Utility regulator wants change in public records law”

State utility regulator Bob Burns wants lawmakers to tighten up the state’s Public Records Law, possibly setting up a “gatekeeper” who would have to approve — and could deny — requests.

Burns, a former state Senate president, said his concerns started with the ongoing battle for the text messages of fellow commissioner Bob Stump. The Checks and Balances Project is questioning a series of texts just ahead of the 2014 Republican primary.

Burns said that what already is known about the pattern of Stump’s tests “certainly looks a little bit strange” and may merit the kind of requests made of the Arizona Corporation Commission for the contents.

eagle

Excerpt from Arizona Eagletarian (8/14/15): “Does the Arizona Legislature DARE to attempt limiting Public Records access?”

Once looked to for sound reasoning in the ongoing saga of Trash Burner Bob Stump and his dubious (and clandestine) communications with Koch-addict Sean Noble, Arizona Public Service president Don Brandt and Brandt’s newest wholly-owned corporation commissioners Little and Forese — Bob Burns now says it’s time to shut down public records access for pains in the government bee-hind like the Checks and Balances Project.

azcentral

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/15/15): “Elected official: Keep the sunlight out” 

As reported last week in the Arizona Capitol Times, Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns is exasperated after fighting for three months with a Washington, D.C.-based open government group seeking another commissioner’s telephone text messages.

So, rather than just give the Checks and Balances Project what it wants, Burns proposes the opposite approach: Require the courts to approve public-records requests.

In other words, he wants to require search warrants.

Burns should step back, take a deep breath and consider that worthy adage warning that “hard cases make bad law.”

azcentral

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/15/15): “New Arizona utility regulators to face first APS case on solar rates”

The changes would affect only new solar customers, not those who installed solar before the fees were approved in 2013 or those who pay the 70-cent fee today. They also would not affect solar water heating, only solar electric.

Controversy surrounding the issue increased dramatically last year when Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little won election backed by $3.2 million in advertising by independent political groups supporting them and opposing the other Republicans in the race.

Forese and Little’s Republican primary challengers were backed by the rooftop-solar industry.

APS has declined to answer repeated questions about whether it was funding those campaigns.

12news

Excerpt from 12 News (8/16/15): “Solar vote tests APS’ clout over regulators”

Almost two years ago, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a controversial plan by APS to raise rates on solar customers.

Since that vote in November 2013, the elected officials who regulate the state’s largest utility, and the utility itself, have come to be seen in a very different light:

* Utility monopoly APS as a political gorilla in Arizona with untold and undisclosed cash to spend to elect the five members of the commission that sets its rates — and ours.

* The all-Republican Corporation Commission as a captive of APS. One current Corporation Commissioner – Bob Stump — and a former Corporation Commissioner — Gary Pierce — are being investigated by Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office over allegations they got too cozy with APS.

Top Headline, August 14th, 2015

in the news

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/13/15): “How utterly fitting. Corporation Commissioner wants to limit public’s access to public’s business”

For months, the Checks and Balances Project has been trying to get a look at Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages sent on his commission-supplied phone during the 2014 campaign season. Specifically, it’s interested in what Stump was talking about in his multiple exchanges with an APS official, the head of a dark-money group believed to be tied to APS and a couple of commission candidates elected with the help of that dark-money group.

It would seem that Mr. Burns doesn’t think the public has any right to get a glimpse into just how cozy (or not) APS has become with the commission that supposedly regulates it.