- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - The Central Arizona Project, which delivers water through canals to farmers and residents of desert cities in Arizona, has spent more than $2.5 million on lobbyists in Arizona and Washington over the past five years.

The water canal system’s lobbying costs have come under fire from Gov. Doug Ducey’s office.

His office has suggested banning Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which manages CAP, from hiring federal lobbyists. More recent documents show lobbying costs could be considered as part of required performance audits from the state’s auditor general, the Arizona Capitol Times reports (https://bit.ly/2g4NyxM ).

CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson notes that the lobbying costs are just a fraction of the project’s overall $1.25 billion budget.

According to an analysis of lobbying contracts, Robert Lynch was CAP’s lobbyist in Washington at a cost of $70,000 annually from 2012 to 2015, the newspaper reported. CAP also had a contract for federal lobbying services with Bracy, Tucker, Brown and Valanzano from 2010 to 2016, for $20,000 per month.

The law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck now lobbies for the project in Washington. Its contract at $210,000 annually ends in May 2018, according to the newspaper.

At the state level, Don Isaacson has lobbied on CAP’s behalf for 33 years, according to the project. Its current contract, which started in January 2016 and ends in December 2017, is for $182,000.

CAP officials say focus on lobbying costs in general, whatever they may be, is a distraction.

“Whether or not the Central Arizona Project utilizes the services of consultants to help understand the politics of the nation’s Capitol or the state Capitol is not the issue. Prolonged drought conditions and the effect on Arizona’s Colorado River allocation is the issue,” Thompson said.

The governor’s spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said it would be premature to say whether Ducey’s office will pursue a lobbying ban or include lobbying costs in audits.

An audit of CAP was initiated by the Legislature last year, and the governor’s office is interested in seeing the results, Scarpinato said. Ducey also issued an executive order last year banning state agencies from hiring contract lobbyists.

“Our office isn’t a huge fan of public dollars paying for lobbyists,” Scarpinato said. “But I think we want to get to a place where entities can do their job, advocate for their users, but also be part of a state effort and a state approach to our water future.”

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, https://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com

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