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Tue, Oct. 15

AG’s office looking into Andy Tobin, other officials’ use of public resources to oppose Prop 127

PHOENIX — The Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether a utility regulator and officials of three cities and three counties acted illegally in the way they urged voters to oppose a ballot measure.

In letters to all of them, Assistant Attorney General O.H. Skinner pointed out that state laws specifically prohibit the use of public resources for political purposes. And that, he said, includes urging people to vote one way or another on ballot measures.

So Skinner wants all of them to explain why their actions should not be considered a violation of those laws - and why they should not pay a fine.

In the case of Andy Tobin, a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, he had the agency’s public information officer, a state employee, send out a press release.

Less clear is whether the officials in Chino Valley, Snowflake and Pinetop-Lakeside, in adopting resolutions in opposition to Proposition 127 used “public resources.’’ All three got letters from Skinner asking for answers, as did officials from Navajo, Greenlee and Gila counties.

There are two separate complaints.

The one against Tobin stems from a press release he issued earlier this month, on his official letterhead and through the commission’s paid public information officer, announcing his opposition to Proposition 127.

That measure, if approved, would require utilities like APS to generate at least half of their power from renewable sources by 2030. It would override a current commission goal of 15 percent by 2025.

Bob Burns, another commission member, complained that release violated the law on the use of public resources to influence an election. The commission chose to refer the matter to the Attorney General’s Office.

A separate complaint filed by state Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix said that employees of Arizona Public Service have been “badgering’’ county and local officials and their staff with requests to adopt a formal resolution opposing Proposition 127. The Energy and Policy Institute, through public records requests, has found several instances where APS officials sought to make presentations on the initiative to local lawmakers.

Clark, in his letter to the Attorney General’s Office cited a series of laws prohibiting state, county and local governments from using their resources to influence elections.

“Those laws were designed to keep special interests from usurping public dollars for a private purpose -- that is, to amplify support or opposition to purely campaign matters,’’ he wrote.

Skinner, in nearly identical letters Thursday to Tobin and officials in the three towns and three counties, cited the statutes barring the use of public funds to influence the outcome of elections.

“A knowing violation of this provision would be a particularly serious matter,’’ he wrote. More to the point, Skinner has now placed the burden on those responsible to prove that they acted legally, asking them to explain “why your actions should not be considered a violation.’’

Skinner gave all until Nov. 8 to respond.

Agency spokesman Ryan Anderson said there is nothing magical about that date -- or the fact that it is two days after the general election. He said those subject to requests like these normally are given two weeks to answer.

Tobin has denied violating the law.

For more on this story, visit dCourier.com.

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