Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump’s Top Aide Goes to APS

Commissioner Bob Stump’s Top Aide Goes to APS

Amanda Ho

Bob Stump’s Policy Advisor Amanda Ho has resigned from the Arizona Corporation Commission and is going to work for Arizona Public Service (APS).  Wonder how that came about?

We thought she didn’t know anyone over there.

On March 11, 2015, we sent our first records request to Commissioner Stump, and asked to see “public records that relate to communications by yourself [and] Policy Advisor Amanda Ho… about solar energy or net metering in Arizona with any representatives of Arizona Public Service Company or Pinnacle West Capital Corporation.” Our request covered the 17 months of two rate cases.

But Ms. Ho had no relevant emails with APS. This was during the time period when, under her boss the chairman’s leadership, Arizona became the first state to establish a monthly charge for APS rooftop solar customers.

She had no text messages with APS either. Although we know she and her boss, Bob Stump, exchanged 609 texts during the 17 month period.

Commissioner Bob Stump’s Top Aide Goes to APSAnd as far her calendar was concerned, Ms. Ho – or someone – had a field day with a black marking pen. When we counted up the number of her meetings that were illegally redacted or hidden from the public, out of a total of 515 meetings, 166 were blacked out – 32%.

On August 5, we sent a letter to the Commission and pointed out that under Arizona Public Records Law § 39-121.01(D)(2), you cannot simply black out meetings but instead must provide an index of records or categories of records that have been withheld from your calendar and the reasons the records or categories of records have been withheld.

The response was definitive:

Commissioner Bob Stump’s Top Aide Goes to APS

Who spends a third of their time at work on personal business?  Will she be allowed to do that at APS?

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump ContactsToday, we publish the entire, 240-page log of Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages in a searchable format. We are also looking for the public’s help in identifying senders or receivers of text messages who we could not identify.

Further analysis of the text message logs of Arizona Corporation Commission’s Bob Stump provides new insights into the pattern of contacts by the former chairman.  Click here to access and updated list of all the names we’ve tentatively identified to date and their number of texts.  Click here to find the entire searchable log.

We converted the text message log, provided by the Commission in response to our March 11 records request, into an Excel Spreadsheet. We then searched open source records including Google, LexisNexis, and Spokeo to determine the owners of phone numbers with whom Stump exchanged text messages.

New analysis has yielded some striking insights that we list below.

We could not identify many numbers. If you recognize any we have not identified, please send us your findings to: capturedregulator@checksandbalancesproject.org. We protect the identity of sources.

Last August’s Primary Election

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

In the months leading up to Arizona’s primary election on August 26, 2014, in which two sets of Republican candidates were pitted against each other – one pro-rooftop solar, the other pro-utility – our initial investigation showed indications that Stump was in extensive contact with many players in the dark money election scheme that helped elect the pro-Arizona Public Service candidates.

The pattern of those text messages suggest Stump not only knew, but also raises the question of whether he could have been coordinating the election of winning GOP candidates (now commissioners) Doug Little and Tom Foresee with APS’ Barbara Lockwood, and Scot Mussi, the head of the dark money electoral group, Arizona Free Enterprise Club. Arizona Public Service (APS) is widely believed to have funded much of the dark money election scheme.

Enter Sean Noble

Stump contacted Koch Industries operative Sean Noble in a concentrated period weeks before the Republican candidate selection

A new examination of the text logs shows that then-Chairman Stump first reached out to Sean Noble, executive director and president of American Encore, a 501(c) 4 nonprofit reported to be a conduit for the Koch Brothers donor network, on July 17. They corresponded regularly through 18 texts in the next eight days then stopped. This period was five weeks before Arizona’s primary to select Republican candidates for the Commission. At no other time from May 1, 2014, through March 11, 2015, did Stump and Noble text each other, according to the log.

Full Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Noble, Mussi messages overlap; more extensive texting with dark money electoral group

The text messages with Noble overlap the time period during which Chairman Stump was texting with Scot Mussi, president and sole board member, of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. Checks and Balances Project had previously reported that Mussi and Stump exchanged 46 texts. Our recount shows the prior number was conservative. The actual number is higher: 73.

Full Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Messages with APS’s Lockwood relegated to primary election season

Four days before Stump first texted Sean Noble, he reached out to APS’s  general manager of regulatory affairs and compliance Barbara Lockwood on July 13, 2014. Over the next 15 days, until July 31, the Chairman and Lockwood would swap 44 texts, then stop for nearly two months.

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Something seems to have happened during the final two weeks of July. Stump was texting Noble, whom he stopped on July 24; Mussi, whose last text was on July 26; and candidate, now Commissioner Tom Forese, with whom he stopped texting on July 26.

 

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Lon Huber Texts

1,806 texts exchanged with Lon Huber, consultant to AZ Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO).  

The mission of RUCO  is to serve Arizona’s Residential Utility. Essentially, it is supposed to be the advocate for Arizona consumers, who, it should be noted, overwhelmingly want access to low-cost rooftop solar. One of the most  frequent text contacts for Stump on his taxpayer-reimbursed phone was a key RUCO consultant, Lon Huber. The logs show that Stump and Huber exchanged 1,806 text messages – an average of over five a day over the 11 month period the records cover. Huber debated solar industry attorney Court Rich at Solar Summit 2014, arguing for the benefits of government-supported monopoly untilities competing in the low-cost rooftop solar market against private enterprise.

Conclusion

The full text logs and the analysis provided here provide a thicker cast of Stump’s text contacts. They also show an even less flattering set of facts than the contacts reported to date for an elected body supposed to be neutrally overseeing large parts of the Arizona economy on behalf of its citizens.

When Stump’s text messages are finally released and if suspicions of electioneering turn out to be correct, it’s not just Bob Stump who could potentially be at fault. It’s also commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little – perhaps others on the Commission and staff, as well.

This is very likely why this same set of players at the ACC now asserts that it should control the discovery and release of the text messages that it very clearly doesn’t want the public to see. The fact remains that the Commission already has the subpoena power to order Verizon to release the text message content immediately. The messages are, literally, a phone call away.

The Arizona Corporation Commission’s gamesmanship from last week continues to suggest a deep-seated fear of public access to public records.

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.

 

Arizona Captured Regulators Controversy Grows

Arizona Captured Regulators Controversy GrowsThe Arizona Republic published on Sunday, May 3, 2015, a lengthy  front-page article by Reporter Ryan Randazzo that examines continuing questions of impropriety by the Arizona Corporation Commission, including allegations by whistleblower Antonio Gill.

Among the claims by Gill are that former Commission Chairman Gary Pierce took part in approximately 14 secret meetings, which Gill arranged as his assistant, with Donald E. Brandt chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Pinnacle West and Arizona Public Service (APS). Gill alleges some of these conversations broke rules on ex-parte or unauthorized communications during rate review cases.

Explosive Charge

The second half of the article contains what is perhaps the most explosive charge. In September 2013, Pierce successfully advocated for APS’ position that the commission should stop exploring retail competition for electricity. One month later, APS’ top lobbyist, Jessica Pachecho, reserved a room at Phoenix Country Club for a fundraiser for Justin Pierce, Gary’s son, who was running for secretary of state. Justin Pierce lost and opponents claim about $465,000 was funneled through dark money groups to support Justin Pierce by APS – an allegation the utility has not responded to.

Additional Information

Arizona Captured Regulators Controversy GrowsIn our Captured Regulators Initiative, Checks and Balances Project is looking at former Chairman and current Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump. During his chairmanship, Arizona became the first state to establish a monthly fee payable to a utility by consumers who want low-cost rooftop solar. It was a high-stakes fight for APS, the state’s dominant utility, and one the utility badly wanted to win.

The Randazzo article details four meetings by Stump with APS CEO Don Brant and one with former President Don Robinson over eight years.

Supplemental information derived from our records requests show that the estimate in the Arizona Republic’s article of APS’s lobbying force working the commission is quite conservative.

Arizona Captured Regulators Controversy GrowsIn just the 17 month period from July 12, 2013 through March 10, 2015, Commissioner Stump met with APS’ Don Brandt, Chief Operating Officer Mark Schiavoni, Senior Vice President Jeff Guldner, or Manager Stacy Aguayo at least 12 times. All are registered with the Arizona Secretary of State as APS lobbyists.  Were we able to total up meetings over eight years with all commissioners, we expect the numbers would be much higher.

Other meetings with APS representatives who are not registered lobbyists but involved in specific projects are not included in this total. They include meetings with no specific person indicated, such as a Sept. 3, 2014 entry, “APS meeting re: Supplemental Application (Utility-owned DG) in the RE…”; a meeting with Barry Aarons, a former registered APS lobbyist, who met with the Commissioner on Sept. 11, 2014, to discuss “APS filing solar panels”; and meetings with APS’ Barbara Lockwood, General Manager for Regulatory Policy and Compliance, who met with Stump 13 times since March 2014.

Hidden Meetings

The number of meetings on Commissioner Stump’s public calendar that have been hidden or “redacted” from public view is quite large. For example, in the two month period after Don Brandt met with Commissioner Stump on July 30, 2014, there are 172 meetings on the commissioner’s calendar. Yet 50 meetings or 29% of the total are blacked out or redacted.

Under Arizona Records Law, if you are a public official, you have an obligation to respond fully to records requests. This is a fundamental legal right of the public, and it needs to be enforced.

In many states, commissioners have been lured to ally themselves with the industries they are charged with regulating over public interest. There is a term for this, created by Nobel Prize winning Economist George J. Stigler over 50 years ago: “Regulatory capture.”

Is this what has happened in Arizona? In the days and weeks ahead, we hope to find out.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.