- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - The chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission should be removed from office because she lobbies for a telecommunication company that she regulates and has multiple other conflicts of interest, according to a complaint filed with Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

The complaint filed Wednesday by Chandler attorney Tom Ryan says that Susan Bitter Smith’s work as a lobbyist for Cox Communications disqualifies her from office. Ryan also says she worked on a project that involved moving an Arizona Public Service substation. Both APS and Cox are regulated by the commission.

“These two matters are substantial conflicts of interests, and her involvement in the telecommunication industry means she was never qualified for the office,” Ryan said.

Bitter Smith said in a statement issued by her attorney that the complaint is frivolous and that she has never worked for a company that is regulated by the commission.

“This is a part of a wider effort by a solar backed dark money group committed to forcing rate payers in Arizona to heavily subsidize solar,” she said. “I expect the AG will act quickly to dismiss the complaint.”



Bitter Smith has said she lobbies for the cable arm of Cox, not the telephone arm that is subject to commission oversight.

The commission regulates electricity providers, water companies and other companies that hold monopoly power in the state, setting rates and other regulation. 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.

The office’s criminal division will review the complaint and determine whether an investigation is warranted, Brnovich spokesman Ryan Anderson said. The criminal division is involved because it has the resources and investigation experience needed to handle the matter, Anderson said.

The complaint against Bitter Smith is the latest in a series of issues that has embroiled the commission in controversy. Allegations that Commissioner Bob Stump exchanged text messages with APS executives during the 2014 election campaign are part of an attorney general’s probe. APS is widely suspected of spending millions to support two Republicans running for the commission last year.

The attorney general is involved in the text-message investigation and a whistleblower complaint that former commissioner Gary Pierce secretly met with senior APS executives when the commission was considering a rate-increase request.

Ryan said the commission is rife with conflicts, and it is time to clean house in the commission, whose five members are currently all Republicans. He said he’s an independent and his actions aren’t political.

“None of them deserve our trust. We need to get rid of them we need to start over,” Ryan said. “We need real people in there that are willing to hold the public service corporations accountable. Not one of them in there is doing that right now.”

If Brnovich determines that Bitter Smith has a legal conflict, he could file a complaint in court to seek her removal and she would be able to defend against that action.

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