Arizona attorney general says 28 officials broke law by opposing clean-energy measure
The Arizona Attorney General's Office says 28 public officials broke the law by advocating against a clean-energy ballot measure during last year's election and is offering them a chance to settle for $225 each.
Six rural towns and counties, as well as utility regulator Andy Tobin, used their public offices to oppose Proposition 127, which was heavily opposed by Arizona Public Service Co.
Had voters not rejected the measure in November, it would have required half the electric company's energy to come from renewable sources by 2030.
The Attorney General's Office, after launching investigations into the matter in October, offered settlements to Tobin and officials from the towns of Pinetop-Lakeside, Snowflake and Chino Valley, and Gila, Navajo and Greenlee counties.
The rural communities passed resolutions, or in the case of Chino Valley, issued a letter, opposing Prop. 127 from May to September. Tobin issued an official press release to that effect.
Arizona has three laws that prohibit the use of state, city/town and county resources to influence the outcome of elections. The fines could have been as high as $5,000 each.
"This office has concluded that this action constitutes a use of resources for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election," said a letter from Chief Counsel Evan Daniels in the Attorney General's Office to Chino Valley officials. The wording was substantially similar to letters sent to the other officials.
Former lawmaker says $225 is too low
Former state Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, filed a complaint with Attorney General Mark Brnovich's Office regarding the resolutions. He said he was disappointed that the fines were so small and said it represents APS' influence over public officials.
"It is clearly not a deterrent, but I wouldn't expect much deterrence from the attorney general or the governor or any of these other folks who have benefited ... from their relationships with APS," Clark said Monday.
"I find it interesting that (Brnovich) responded so quickly to that during a campaign election cycle, and there are other things he has not responded so quickly to, and to just throw a $225 fine out there is highly suspect."
Tobin issued a press release from his Arizona Corporation Commission office opposing Prop. 127. The commission regulates APS.
Fellow Republican commission member Robert Burns complained about Tobin's press release, and the five commissioners voted unanimously in October to refer the matter to the Attorney General's Office.
Tobin said during that meeting he "probably wasn't as on top of my game as I should have been" when he issued the press release opposing the proposition, but that he would not be "intimidated" by Burns.
"I don't get easily intimidated by bullies out there that try to tell me what I'm going to do with my First Amendment rights and how I'm going to serve the public," Tobin said.
Officials have till March 15 to respond
The officials all have until March 15 to respond to the Attorney General's Office. They must each pay their fine out of their own pocket, not with money from their public office. Each is required to pay the town or county, except Tobin, whose fine would go to the Attorney General's Office.
Not replying to the settlement could subject them each to additional fines, according to the letters.
The legality of the resolutions passed by the towns and counties was first questioned by the Energy and Policy Institute, a San Francisco organization that supports renewable energy and works to expose energy companies' influence on regulators. The group does not disclose where it gets funding.
Last fall, EPI published letters between some communities and APS officials that it obtained through the Arizona Public Records Law. The letters showed APS employees lobbying public officials to pass resolutions opposing the clean-energy measure.
Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at email@example.com or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.