APS declines to disclose political donations

Posted at 2:00 PM, Dec 31, 2015
and last updated 2016-01-01 04:10:30-05

Arizona's largest utility has declined to disclose its political donations and said requiring the release of that information would violate its constitutional rights.

Arizona Corporation Commission member Robert Burns asked Arizona Public Service Co. on Nov. 30 to disclose within 30 days its direct and indirect contributions to political candidates in the 2014 elections.

The request came amid ongoing speculation that APS spent $3.2 million backing the campaigns of commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little, who are both Republicans, as is Burns.

The company won't confirm or deny whether it contributed to groups that backed the candidates.

Among other things, the five-member commission regulates and approves rates for electricity providers, water companies and other firms that hold monopoly power in the state. It has executive, judicial and legislative power over the firms it regulates.

APS President and CEO Donald Brandt told Burns in a letter Tuesday that compelling disclosure about political contributions that APS might have made would go beyond what Arizona campaign finance law requires and "would impinge on APS' First Amendment rights" involving free speech.

Burns said Thursday he plans to confer with the commission's staff about what to do next. He also said he wasn't surprised by the response given APS's previous statements on the topic.

Burns had said in his letter to APS that the utility should disclose any political spending in the interest of transparency.

APS and parent Pinnacle West Capital Corp. have a First Amendment right to participate in elections and it's not his intention to interfere with those rights, Burns added.

"However, your support for any candidate should be open and transparent," he wrote in the letter to Brandt. "Your unwillingness to disclose this information leads to a variety of unfortunate perceptions."

Burns previously asked all regulated utilities to voluntarily abstain from backing or opposing commission candidates. Brandt responded by saying Pinnacle West and APS "cannot agree to forfeit any of their First Amendment rights to speak on public issues."

Former commissioners and a solar firm asked Forese and Little to recuse themselves in September because of apparent conflict related to possible APS spending. They refused.