State utility regulators have a legal right to question company executives about whether they secretly funneled money into political campaigns, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said today.
In a formal legal opinion, Brnovich sided with Bob Burns who has been trying for months to get Arizona Public Service to open its books to show any political donations. When efforts to secure voluntary compliance failed, Burns made an official demand.
APS refused. And attorney Mary O’Grady, writing to Burns on behalf of utility investors, said the powers of commissioners to inspect the books of utilities is limited.
So Burns asked Brnovich to take a look.
Burns called the opinion “a victory for Arizona ratepayers and those of us on the side of transparency.”
An APS spokeswoman would say only that the utility is studying what Brnovich wrote.
The question is more than academic.
There are allegations — not denied by APS — that it put money into the 2014 campaign for Arizona Corporation Commission through one of two “dark money” organizations that were spending heavily to influence the elections.
Campaign finance records show that Save Our Future Now and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club together spent more than $3 million on the campaign, first to help Tom Forese and Doug Little win the Republican nomination, and then to ensure they won the general election. Both groups have refused to reveal their donors, saying they are organized under federal tax laws as “social welfare” organizations exempt from state financial disclosure laws.
Don Brandt, the chief executive officer of APS, is making similar claims.
“Compelled disclosure about political contributions that APS or its affiliates may have made out of shareholder profits would go beyond what is required of corporations under Arizona campaign finance law, and would impinge on APS’ First Amendment rights,” he wrote to Burns.
The company has been cagey about its role in the campaign.