The Skinny

Power Play

APS has engaged in shocking political machinations with the Corporation Commission

The recent actions of the majority on the Arizona Corporation Commission have been shameful.

Really, the only decent commissioner on the body at this point is Republican Bob Burns, who has been pushing his colleagues to investigate how much money the state's largest utility, Arizona Public Service, dumped into the 2014 Corporation Commission races.

APS has played coy about whether it spent more than $3 million in the races for seats on the body that decides whether utilities can increase rates for your electric bill. Two non-profits that were likely funded by APS—the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and Save Our Future Now—ran millions of dollars on ads supporting Republican commissioners Doug Little and Tom Forese.

What's APS up to? Well, for starters, it clearly wants to kneecap the fledgling rooftop solar biz. While rooftop solar accounts for a miniscule amount of the company's customers, APS still wants to come up with ways to make rooftop less attractive with new fees designed to wipe out the savings that solar customers enjoy as a result of investing in solar panels. And it wants to institute so-called "demand charges."

In simple terms, demand charges are a billing option that base the monthly charge on the hour with the highest electrical use. Large business customers often agree to them as a way of creating an incentive to spread out their power use through the day. But they've never been instituted anywhere in the country for residential customers, for good reason: While big business has the ability to figure out when it hits peak usage, your average residential customer doesn't have that ability. So you can imagine the outcome when seniors get scared of using electricity and stop running their air conditioners in the summertime.

In short, demand charges are lousy idea for Arizona.

But more importantly, APS is destroying the Corporation Commission's reputation as a consumer watchdog that's out to protect Arizonans from the rapacious ways of monopolistic utilities and building a new reputation as a corrupt body in bed with the very companies it is supposed to regulate.

APS has said it will not be contributing "dark money" this year, but the 2014 contributions have led to an FBI investigation as well as an internal one directed by APS parent company, Pinnacle West.

During a recent Tucson forum with corporation commission candidates in Tucson, four of the five candidates seeking two seats on the commission said the commission needs to restore its reputation. (Commissioner Andy Tobin, who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year, didn't attend the forum.)

Burns said one of his major concerns "is that the regulated corporation contributes to Corporation Commission candidates and creates the impression or reality of undue influence."

Democratic Corporation Commission candidate Bill Mundell, who served on the ACC as a Republican, said he was ready to retire until he saw the current Corporation Commission dismantling the clean energy standards he had helped put in place.

"I began so disheartened and disgusted by the behavior that's occurring at the institution that I served at and valued for nine years," Mundell said. "What am I talking about? The unethical behavior that's been occurring at the commission and the possibly illegal behavior."

And Democrat Tom Chabin, a former state lawmaker, said that he thinks the overriding issue is restoring the integrity of the commission.

"We have the state's largest utility that contributed $3.2 million of ratepayer profits into dark money campaigns," Chabin said. "They are the Koch brothers of Arizona. The largest issue facing the commission is the integrity of the commission. There is no doubt, because of the investment of APS, that this is a utility-friendly commission."

After the forum, Burns said he was disappointed in Tobin's effort to block him from having funding to hire an investigator to look into the APS funding.

Burns acknowledged that APS had the legal right to contribute to nonprofits that are attempting to influence elections, "but the issue is, if they spend it, they need to report it when they spend it, so the voters and the ratepayers know who they are supporting and who are they opposing and what is the message."

What can you do about it? Well, as we advise in our endorsements this week, you have a little power of your own in this fight: You can vote for the three people most likely to pursue disclosure and least likely to bend over for the utilities: Bob Burns, Bill Mundell and Tom Chabin.

Justice Denied

McCain says he would oppose any Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court

Sen. John McCain blurted out an amazing promise on earlier this week: He would band together with his fellow Republicans to prevent Hillary Clinton from appointing anyone to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It's bad enough that earlier this year, Republican senators made up a bogus "tradition" that presidents shouldn't be able to appoint someone to the bench in the final year of their presidency because "the people" should decide whether a Democrat or a Republican would have the chance to make an appointment. But now it appears that no matter what the people decide, McCain will continue to oppose Democratic nominees.

on Monday, Oct. 17, McCain told a Philadelphia radio station: ""I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up. I promise you. This is where we need the majority."

McCain later walked back his statement through a spokesperson. (So his vow to be united against any nominee may not have been a promise?). Team McCain clarified that that McCain would at least look at the nominee's record, but Arizona's senior senator remained skeptical that Clinton could put forth the name of judge who wasn't too liberal for his standards. Kind of a distinction without a difference.

If you're wondering how conservative a justice would have to be to earn McCain's support: He told The Skinny last month that Obama nominee Merrick Garland was too liberal to earn his support, even though Garland has been described as the ideal kind of nominee by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.

McCain's hardline stance is particularly appalling given that earlier this year, he said that Congress has low approval ratings because lawmakers have abandoned bipartisanship.

"Bipartisanship does not exist," McCain said. "What we need is a recognition on the part of both parties is that the approval rating of both parties is 14 percent. Why is that approval rating what it is? Because they don't think we are responding to their hopes and dreams and ambitions and what they want us to do."

Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democratic congresswoman who is facing McCain this year, pounced on McCain's comment before he walked it back.

"The unprecedented political obstructionism John McCain is now advocating is not just pure, partisan politics at its worst: it's downright dangerous," said Ann Kirkpatrick. "John McCain now clearly values his own party's goals over the good of our country. After endorsing Trump more than 60 times, John McCain is now promising broken government if Trump doesn't win. This is just one more sad, but clear, example of how much John McCain has changed after 33 years in Washington and why we need new, principled leadership for Arizona."