Photo by Les Stukenberg.
PHOENIX — Claiming a “commitment to transparency,” the state’s largest electric utility on Friday detailed more than $10 million it spent in the last two years to directly and indirectly influence elections and gave to other organizations to lobby.
But forget about getting any information about the 2014 race — information one utility regulator claims will show whether Arizona Public Service and parent Pinnacle West Capital Corp. helped elect two of his colleagues.
“Like we’ve said over and over again, we’re moving forward, looking ahead,” said APS spokeswoman Anna Stewart.
Some of what the report shows is no surprise.
The utility put nearly $4.2 million into an entity it created called the Arizona Coalition for Reliable Electricity.” Its goal was to ensure that the five-member Arizona Corporation Commission that regulates utility rates remained an all-Republican affair, with the money spent to defeat Democrats Tom Chabin and Bill Mundell.
APS and Pinnacle West had to go that route because Arizona law specifically forbids corporations from giving money directly to candidates.
Separately, the companies put another $550,000 into Arizona Grassroots PAC which worked to ensure that incumbent U.S. Sen. John McCain defeated challenger Kelly Ward in the Republican primary.
Then there was another $575,000 given to the Arizona Republican Party. But the companies were clearly hedging their bets, also donating to the state Democratic Party — but just $60,000.
But the report also lists $4.1 million given to something called the Market Freedom Alliance.
According to its website, one of its issues is to promote “demand charges,” a method of getting more money out of electric customers who generate some of their own power. But the group has a grab-bag of other interests ranging from opposing minimum wage increases and various regulations to allowing wineries to ship their products from state to state and even opposing the trade practices of China.
In a prepared statement, Stewart said the report, posted on the company’s website, shows the companies are interested in being up front with their spending. She said the disclosure “goes beyond our legal requirement to provide additional information about our contributions.”
Stewart also said any political spending was justified, calling 2016 a “challenging political year.”
She said APS faced “out-of-state interests keen in taking advantage of Arizona electricity customers through ballot initiatives and at the polls.”
That reference to initiatives stems from a bid by SolarCity to get voters to adopt a law prohibiting demand charges.
In essence, this is a charge added to the customer’s actual usage that factors in how much power is being drawn during any one-hour period. It can undermine any savings that would be seen by customers who generate their own power.
SolarCity dropped its initiative when Republican lawmakers threatened to place a competing measure on the ballot. And in a settlement reached earlier this month, APS agreed to drop mandatory demand charges from its rate-hike case.
And the reference to the polls refers to the fact that SolarCity sought to put at least one Democrat on the five-member commission.
That, however, still leaves open the question of 2014 spending.
Commissioner Bob Burns had issued a subpoena following financial reports that two outside groups, Save Our State Now and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, together spent $3.2 million in that campaign to ensure the election of Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little.
APS officials refused to confirm or deny any of that money came from them, though they did say that the company has an obligation to defend itself against attacks by candidates who criticize it.
Stewart said don’t bother looking at the report for what the company did — or did not — do in 2014.
“This is just about 2016,” she said. “That’s all I have for you.”
APS and Pinnacle West will likely escape having to ever disclose the information.
Earlier this week the other commissioners voted to stop providing commission funds to Burns in his legal battle to enforce his subpoena. Forese, who now chairs the commission, has said he belives Burns is obsessed with not just what happened more than two years ago but also with ensuring there is no more “dark money” going into future campaigns.
Stewart, while not talking about 2014, said the policy to disclose future political spending should preclude any concern about that, at least in the future.