Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

No competitive bid process, no conflict vetting, association with checkered efforts – all at considerable expense to Arizona Taxpayers

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Barrett Marson

On June 19, the day that our attorney, Dan Barr, sent a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) demanding access to former Chairman Bob Stump’s cell phone, ACC Executive Director Jodi Jerich fired long-time Commission spokesperson Rebecca Wilder.

Rather than comply with our public records request and allow downloading of Stump’s text messages to determine whether not Stump had engaged in illegal electioneering, Stump and the Commission had decided to fight, at considerable expense to Arizona taxpayers

PR Consultant Barrett Marson Hired

Five days later, the ACC hired Barrett Marson to serve as the ACC’s PR consultant at $7,500 per month.

According to records obtained by the Checks and Balances Project show there was no competitive bid process to make sure taxpayers got the best deal on the contract. There is no indication of an effort to ensure Marson had no conflicts of interest. The expensive hiring of Marson raises questions about why he was selected.

Marson is a minor celebrity in Arizona GOP circles. Since October 2013, he has co-hosted “Copper Talk,” a political podcast series. His first interview was with former Arizona Treasurer, now Governor, Doug Ducey. Barrett is a former journalist and director of communications for the Arizona House of Representatives and Dept. of Corrections where, according to his website bio, he “attended four executions.” Apparently, he cares a lot about his website and even uses one of the best ranking hostingów hosting agencies.

Minutes before our deadline, the Commission’s outside counsel David Cantelme, hired at a rate of $300 an hour, let it be known that the Commission had changed tactics. Their new plan was to choose a retired judge and a state police forensic expert to download Stump’s phone, then decide whether any of the texts are public records. The plan backfired when both the state police and Phoenix police refused to get involved.

Meanwhile, Marson wasted little time, directing an elaborate diversionary campaign to take people’s eyes off the unfulfilled public records request.

Ties That Bind

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Robert Graham

It’s worth noting that Marson has past connections to Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s powerful chief of staff, Kirk Adams, through the dark money electoral nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership, where Marson was spokesman.

Graham, in the news last week for standing behind a county Republican Party executive who Donald Trump fired as his state director due to racist and religious slurs, was founding chairman of ARL and a director until becoming Arizona GOP chairman in February 2013. The Arizona GOP issued the infamous “Who Is Dan Barr?” attack video, and, according to Graham, created blog posts, a website, and a social media campaign attacking C&BP and defending Stump.

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Kirk Adams

Gov. Ducey’s Chief of Staff Kirk Adams was president of Americans for Responsible Leadership in 2012 and 2013. A former Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, where he worked with Marson, he also founded Prosper Inc., a 501c (4) non-profit that that received money from Arizona Public Service (APS) to fight net-metering.

The $1 Million California Fine

In October 2013, — while Graham, Adams, and Marson were all associates – the California Fair Political Practices Commission and California Attorney General announced a fine of $1 million – the largest in California history – for an $11 million campaign finance money-laundering violation against Americans for Responsible Leadership and Center to Protect Patient Rights. The illegal contribution was to the Small Business Action Committee. The Center was a front group run by Sean Noble, with whom Stump texted in a burst prior to the August 26, 2014 GOP primary. Almost all of the money has been traced to billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch.

Said Marson, called a “dark-money spinmeister”at the time by the Arizona Republic, “There was no intent to skirt or deceive California officials.”

Kirk Adams called the largest campaign money-laundering violation in California history “a big old nothing-burger.”

ACC is Still Accountable to Arizonans

Marson might have been the best-qualified, lowest-cost service provider the Commission could have hired. But without a competitive bid process and conflict vetting, we are left with only the questions about why he was hired so quickly and with so little screen on his qualifications, pricing, and conflicts.

If Commissioner Stump would have simply fulfilled his legal responsibility to provide the text message records in which he conducted public business – or if Chairman Susan Bitter Smith would have investigated – Arizonans would have been saved tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary contractor expenses.

 

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.

Reader’s Tip Further Decreases Commissioner Bob Stump’s Credibility

Reader’s Tip Further Decreases Commissioner Bob Stump’s Credibility

Newly uncovered information based on a tip from a reader shows that not only was former Chairman Bob Stump of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) texting with four key players in the dark money electoral scheme prior to the August 26, 2014, primary election, he was also in contact with Alan Heywood – the campaign manager of pro-utility candidates Tom Forese and Doug Little.

In fact, the day after Stump exchanged a last text message with Sean Noble, who in the past has served as a conduit for the Koch Brothers dark money network, Stump exchanged 18 texts in just 24 hours with Heywood.

Then, his texts with the other central players soon stopped. According to Stump’s text message log, the following day, he texted for the last time with Scot Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and candidate (now Commissioner) Forese. Several days later, Stump stopped texting with his Arizona Public Service liaison, Barbara Lockwood, for nearly two months.

This was one month before the primary – what could be plenty of time to flush money into the campaigns of winning candidates Forese and Little. The ultimate origins of more than 75% of the spending on the ACC race that benefited Forese and Little has been a secret. But it should be noted that Noble’s largest client last year was Arizona Public Service.

We charted the texting frequency below, and the distribution pattern hardly looks like what you would expect for arranging a social function, unless Stump was planning something like a small wedding with just these six people attending:

Reader’s Tip Further Decreases Commissioner Bob Stump’s Credibility

(July 7-August 16, 2014)

Reader’s Tip Further Decreases Commissioner Bob Stump’s Credibility

(May 5-December 29, 2014)

Arizona election law prevented candidates Forese, Little, and their campaign manager Heywood from directly coordinating with APS, the Free Enterprise Club, and the Koch network. But it appears that Stump may have been doing it for them – communicating with the dark money electoral funders, APS, the candidates, and, now we know, their campaign manager.

This new information about Heywood deepens suspicions that the former Chairman may well have been at the very center of a dark money electoral scheme to elect pro-APS, anti-solar Republicans. If true, Stump’s actions may be a violation of Arizona election law.

Criticism of Publishing Text Log

Our decision to publish Bob Stump’s full text log, a public record provided to us by the Commission in response to our March 11 records request, has not been without criticism (here and here). Commissioner Stump has blamed us for his failure to have the ACC staff redact purely personal contacts – which we didn’t seek, didn’t want, and have no way to identify – and for his choice to conduct public business via text messages on his cell phone. Our offer to Stump to remove the purely personal contacts stands. ACC outside counsel, David Cantelme, has not sent those personal contacts, as he committed to doing.

All that said, our invitation to C&BP readers to identify others on the list has paid off. And, the results aren’t helpful to Commissioner Stump’s credibility.

Remember that when the news first broke of Stump’s extensive texts, Stump asserted the contacts were of a nature that was either personal or universal, i.e., he texts with everyone. Stump now-famously said:

“We have been trying for months to coordinate a double-date to the Phoenix Symphony.”

This dismissal line is now considerably harder to make, thanks to sources who provided us with names matching up to a dozen additional numbers on the full logs.

Heywood’s Phone

Heywood’s cell phone number was wrongly identified in a recent post as belonging to Investment Prime, where he is President and CEO. He is also chairman of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We confirmed through multiple sources that the number is Heywood’s personal cell. Another number previously labeled as Investment Prime we now know belongs to former ACC Chair Gary Pierce – a business associate of Heywood.

Unnecessary Taxpayer Expenses

The Commission has subpoena authority to ask Verizon for the content of the text messages. Any one of the five commissioners could do so today, free of charge. Instead, Stump and the ACC have:

  • Hired a high-priced lawyer, David Cantelme, to obfuscate the right by law of public access to public records for a cost in May alone of $5,428.
  • Contracted a high-profile public relations firm, Marson Media, to represent the ACC after firing its staff spokesperson Rebecca Wilder.
  • Hired the mediation firm of Scott, Skelley and Muchmore to “supervise” the download of text messages – assuming they haven’t been tampered with – at the cost of $475 per hour.
  • Secured the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety’s forensic unit to do the cell phone exam.

Public Accountability

The revelation about Commissioner Stump’s 18 texts with Alan Heywood during same period of a flurry of text activity with Scot Mussi, Tom Forese, Doug Little, Sean Noble and Barbara Lockwood raises obvious questions about Commissioner Stump’s actions that must be answered. Members of the public should demand answers from the four other Corporation Commissioners as to whether they are concerned about Commissioner Stump’s conduct, and if so, what they plan to do about it. All of them have subpoena power to get to the bottom of these questions if they desire to discover the truth.

 

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.