Originally Published: October 17, 2018 7:35 p.m.
PHOENIX — If money is speech, the state’s largest electric utility is not going to have the only voice this year in trying to affect who gets elected to the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Chispa Arizona is launching a $2.8 million television ad buy Thursday in its bid to get support for Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Kiana Sears. And the organization, an affiliate of the national League of Conservation Voters, also is planning some radio and Internet advertising aimed largely at the state’s Latino community.
The move comes as Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service, already has put $3.2 million into an account specifically to influence elections.
To date, that committee operating under the banner of Arizonans for Sustainable Energy Policy, has not made donations to individual candidates. But it has doled out $300,000 to the Arizona Republican Party to support its slate.
That still leaves the committee with nearly $2.6 million for a last-minute ad blitz. Matthew Benson, spokesman for the Pinnacle West-funded group, declined to say Wednesday how that cash would be spent.
“We don’t have any campaign plans to announce at this time,’’ he said.
And APS spokesman Alan Bunnell declined to say if the company intends to spend money in other ways to influence the commission race.
“We don’t disclose our political strategies,’’ he said.
Bunnell said the company has promised to disclose all political funding in its annual report. That, however, does not come out until next spring.
But Laura Dent, executive director of the Chispa Arizona political action committee, said her organization sees to need to wait and see what APS is going to do. She pointed out the utility has a record of trying to elect regulators it believes will give it favorable treatment.
Two years ago it spent $4.2 million to ensure that the commission remained an all-Republican affair. And the company will neither confirm nor deny it was the source of $3.2 million spent by two groupos that do not disclose donors to elect Republicans in 2014.
“For too long the Corporation Commission has been under the influence of the largest private utility in the state that it’s supposed to regulate,’’ she said. “I think it’s a moral hazard that the state’s largest utility, which is a private monopoly with 1.2 million captive audience members as customers is the dominant voice in the election of its own regulators.’’
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