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.

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.