More controversy for the Corporation Commission

Posted at 3:23 PM, Sep 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-22 18:23:00-04

A conservative nonprofit is adding to the controversy surrounding the Arizona Corporation Commission Tuesday, calling for the ouster of its chair, Susan Bitter Smith, over conflict of interest claims.

The Public Integrity Alliance is calling for both the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office and the Clean Election Commission to investigate conflict of interest complaints against Bitter Smith.

The request comes just weeks after a formal complaint was filed with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office by attorney Tom Ryan, calling for Bitter Smith to be removed from office because of her role as a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry that she regulates as chair of the Commission. 

“It is hard to find anyone from any faction of Arizona’s political environment who is aware of this situation but doesn’t think Bitter Smith has a serious conflict of interest,” said Tyler Montague, President of the Public Integrity Alliance in a press release.

“We are going to keep bringing this to the attention of regulators and the general public until action is taken to solve this problem,” he said. “The people of Arizona deserve corporation commissioners free of conflicts of interest.”

The complaint claims that Bitter Smith’s role as a registered lobbyist for Cox Communications and her role as the Executive Director of a telecom trade group during and after her election to the Commission violate state conflict of interest laws.

The Arizona Corporation Commission is an elected five-member commission that regulates water, gas, power and other companies that hold monopolies in the state, including cable companies like Cox Communications.

The complaint says that Bitter Smith likely has a pecuniary interest in not only Cox but other members of the telecom trade group she regulates.

“In both instances, Chairman Bitter Smith appears to have an unseemly interest in Cox and the members of the [telecom trade group],” the complaint says.

Bitter Smith told ABC15 today that this is "just a rehash of the specious complaint from Tom Ryan."

She has said that she lobbies for the cable arm of Cox, not the telephone arm, which is regulated by the Commission.

The Public Integrity Alliance is asking for the Secretary of State’s office to refer the matter to the Arizona Solicitor General’s office and the Clean Elections Commission to investigate the issue and take action, if warranted.

This is the latest in a series of controversies with the Corporation Commission.

Last week, two former Corporation Commissioners filed a motion to stop Commissioners Doug Little and Tom Forese from ruling in Arizona Public Service’s rooftop solar net metering case because of accusations they benefitted from the company’s dark money donations during the 2014 election. 

And, Commissioner Bob Stump is under investigation by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office because of accusations that he exchanged text messages with APS executives during the last election.