Originally Published: October 11, 2018 8:26 p.m.
PHOENIX — Supporters of a renewable energy ballot measure have opened up a new front in their bid to get it approved: an expensive attack on Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
New reports obtained by Capitol Media Services show that Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona is spending more than $3.6 million on television ads calling Brnovich “corrupt’’ and urging voters to turn him out of office — and support Proposition 127.
What’s behind all that is the move by Brnovich’s office to add some verbiage to the description of the initiative that will appear on the ballot to mandate that most electric utilities get at least 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030.
Initiative proponents contend the move will save money in the long run. The opposition, funded by the parent company of Arizona Public Service, claims it could add up to $1,900 a year to an average electric bill.
State law requires the Secretary of State’s Office to come up with descriptions of all ballot measures, with the Attorney General’s Office given final review. But by the time Brnovich’s office was done, the verbiage was altered to say that the mandate, if approved, would apply “irrespective of cost to consumers.’’
“It’s not something we wanted to do,’’ said campaign spokesman D. J. Quinlan of the commercials.
“Unfortunately, the attorney general made the unprecedented step of manipulating ballot language,’’ he continued. “We felt it was imperative for us to subsequently warn Arizona voters that the language they’re going to read on their ballot is not actually with this proposition.’’
Brnovich defended the language, saying it is factually accurate. He said that the measure, which would amend the Arizona Constitution, moves away from existing requirements of how the Arizona Corporation Commission which now has purview over issues like this, sets rates.
But state Elections Director Eric Spencer, who crafted the original explanation — the one without the additional wording — had his own thoughts.
“The Prop 127 language is certainly eyebrow-raising because it cites information exogenous to the ballot measure itself,’’ Spencer wrote to the AG’s office in an email, using a term to mean that the words in the explanation were not taken from the ballot language itself but from outside factors.
“But, I’m sure you’ve calculated the legal and political risks of adding that,’’ Spencer added.
What the new commercials seek to do is put a “why’’ behind the change. And that comes down to money.
It points out that in 2014, Pinnacle West gave $425,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association which turned around and spent more than $1.8 million to defeat Felecia Rotellini, Brnovich’s Democrat foe. Pinnacle West has given another $50,000 to RAGA in this election cycle.
“So when Prop 127 threatened APS’ profits, Brnovich bailed them out,’’ the commercial says.
Brnovich told Capitol Media Services he is not concerned. In fact, the attorney general said he sees the commercial as an endorsement of sorts.
“I guess I must be doing something right,’’ he said.
“I’ve said before that you can judge a person by their opponent,’’ Brnovich continued. “And the fact that an out-of-state California billionaire is going to spend millions of dollars to sully my reputation, I think says more about him than it says about me.’’
That reference is to Tom Steyer whose NextGen Climate political action committee has so far been the source of all the money raised by the pro-127 organization.
The pro-127 spending is not limited to Brnovich.
Those finance report also show an $83,000 expense to keep incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey from getting another term. Quinlan said this is to inform voters of the financial links between Pinnacle West and Ducey, including $100,000 given to the Republican Governors Association this election cycle as well as the maximum $10,200 donation from the company’s political action committee directly to Ducey’s campaign plus another $5,100 each from CEO Don Brandt and his wife Ginger.
“It’s important for Arizona voters to know what APS thinks it’s getting,’’ Quinlan said.
Aside from opposing Proposition 127, Ducey played a more direct role in the measure.
He signed legislation that, in effect, allows utility companies to ignore the renewable energy mandate even if voters approve. Instead, they could pay a fine of as little as $100.
The pro-127 committee also is spending money to attack three Republican candidates for state Senate who are running in legislative districts that could conceivably elect a Democrat.
There is an expense of nearly $55,000 to keep incumbent Kate Brophy McGee from gaining another term, with an identical amount spent against Sylvia Allen. And the campaign is spending another $55,000 to undermine the bid of current House Speaker J.D. Mesnard to get elected to the Senate.
Separately, the pro-127 committee has put $250,000 into a campaign to help elect Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Kiana Sears to the currently all-Republican Arizona Corporation Commission.