Court: utility regulators can seek corporate records to investigate if company is funneling ‘dark money’; Court Rich, director Rose Law Group Renewable Energy Dept. speaks to the controversial background

By Howard Fischer || Capitol Media Services

 Arizona utility regulators have the individual power to seek corporate records to see if a company is funneling “dark money” into the campaigns of their colleagues.

And a majority can’t block it.

In a significant ruling Tuesday, the state Supreme Court rejected arguments by Arizona Public Service that Bob Burns, who was a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, had no independent right to demand a look their corporate books to find out about the money it has spent — and may spend in the future — to elect candidates of its choice.

Attorneys for the utility did not dispute that regulators do have the power to subpoena company records.

But they argued that power belongs to the commission as a whole. And they said the fact that Burns could not get a majority of the five-member panel to go along left him powerless to act on his own.

Not so, said Justice Clint Bolick writing for a majority of the state high court.


“In 2016, a majority of the Corporation Commission voted to stop then-Commissioner Bob Burns from compelling APS to come clean on the dark money the utility secretly had spent to elect the very same Commissioners that voted to protect APS from Burns’ investigation.’

“While the Commission majority wished to waive away the inconvenient truth that APS’ lavish dark money spending allowed it to hand pick its regulators, Burns fought on to expose this corruption. Because the rest of the Commission fought to stop the truth from coming out, it was not until 2019 that the public learned that APS had spent over $10 million to elect Commissioners that ultimately approved the monopoly’s sweetheart 2016 rate case settlement.’

“The Supreme Court got this 100% right in finding that the Constitution means what it very clearly says and that each Commissioner has the power to inspect records of regulated utilities. Burns has been vindicated and his political courage means that future Commissioners will no longer be able to vote to protect themselves from embarrassment or inquiry from other Commissioners.” 

Court Rich, Rose Law Group Co-Founder, Senior Partner and Director of Renewable Energy and Regulatory Law

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September 2022