- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - A member of the Arizona Corporation Commission wants the state’s largest electric utility to disclose its spending in the 2014 elections, a move that ramps up pressure on the utility long suspected of spending millions to elect favored regulators.

Commissioner Bob Burns said in a Monday letter to the top executive at Arizona Public Service Co.’s parent company that the utility should disclose its political spending in the interest of transparency. Burns requested a response to be publicly filed with the commission in 30 days.

Burns said 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.

“However, your support for any candidate should be open and transparent,” Burns wrote in the letter to Pinnacle West and APS CEO Don Brandt. “Your unwillingness to disclose this information leads to a variety of unfortunate perceptions.”

APS has been the subject of ongoing speculation that it spent $3.2 million backing the 2014 elections of commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little, both Republicans. The company won’t confirm or deny that it contributed to groups that backed the candidates.

APS spokesman Jim McDonald said Tuesday that the company is evaluating the letter but had no other comment.

Burns said the alleged campaign contributions make the public look at the commission with “suspicion and mistrust.” He also noted that he was only seeking records of spending by APS as a regulated utility and not Pinnacle West, although he believes the state Constitution gives the commission express authority to seek records from both firms.

“Specifically, I would like to find out if APS has spent ratepayer money to support or oppose the election of Arizona Corporation Commission candidates,” Burns wrote. “I would like to ensure that only APS’s profits are being used for political speech.”

Burns asked all regulated utilities to voluntarily abstain from backing or opposing commission candidates in a September filing. Brandt responded in an October letter by saying that Pinnacle West and APS “cannot agree to forfeit any of their First Amendment rights to speak on public issues.”

Burns’ letter was first reported by the Arizona Capitol Times.

The commission has been embroiled in controversy over the suspected APS spending and other issues. Former commissioners and a solar firm asked Forese and Little to recuse them in September because of apparent conflict relates to APS’s suspected spending. They refused. Commissioner Bob Stump also was asked to step aside because of alleged bias and also declined.

On Monday, the state attorney general asked Arizona Supreme Court to remove commissioner Susan Bitter Smith because she allegedly is paid by cable companies that sell telephone service regulated by the commission.

The five-member commission regulates and approves rates for electricity providers, water companies and other firms that hold monopoly power in the state. It also oversees securities regulation, railroad and pipeline safety and facilitates business incorporation. It has executive, judicial and legislative power over the firms it regulates.

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