Update: On August 21, EPI published an update to this article to note the $3,512,000 Pinnacle West contributed to Arizonans For Affordable Electricity from July 1 to August 11.
The parent company of Arizona Public Service spent nearly $6.4 million in the past three months to prevent an initiative that would require the utility to use more renewable energy from gathering enough signatures to reach the ballot in November, according to campaign finance papers filed last night.
Two Political Action Committees, “Arizonans for Affordable Electricity” and “Arizonans for Sustainable Energy Policy,” used the utility’s money to aggressively fight the proposal that would increase the amount of electricity that APS and other utilities generate from renewable sources to 50% by 2030. The PACs filed their latest campaign finance reports, covering a period from April to June, with the Arizona Secretary of State. APS is Arizona’s largest monopoly electric utility.
Arizonans for Affordable Electricity reported receiving $6,355,000 million in contributions from Pinnacle West Capital Corporation during the quarter – a tremendous amount of political spending even for APS, which has cultivated a reputation for spending big on politics in past election cycles.
Including its spending from earlier this year and the fall, Pinnacle West has now contributed a total of $10,736,300 to the two PACs. The nearly $11 million total does not include the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions that the Pinnacle West PAC has given to state and local officials who have supported APS-backed efforts against the renewable energy measure.
Since the emergence of the renewable energy proposal earlier this year, the two PACs have worked to prevent the effort from receiving the requisite 225,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot in November.
Arizonans for Affordable Electricity spent most of APS’ cash – $5.95 million to date, and $5.025 million from April to June – on a firm called Petition Partners.
Petition Partners generally works to collect signatures for ballot initiatives, but in this case, the firm worked on APS’ behalf to prevent the renewable energy campaign from collecting signatures.
According to reports from earlier this month, Petition Partners’ main tactic was to use the APS money to offer “signing bonuses” of up to $7,500 to petition gatherers working for the renewable energy initiative if they quit collecting signatures for the clean energy campaign and instead joined Petition Partners.
A spokesperson for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, the group backing the ballot initiative, told ABC15 that “APS is now bribing our petition circulators, offering them thousands of dollars to leave the state.”
In response, Matt Benson of Veridus LLC, a PR and lobbying firm that has led APS’ campaign against the clean energy ballot initiative throughout 2018 and the spokesperson for the PACs, said, “Look, this is a competitive marketplace for petition circulators, there’s a lot of demand for these folks and the companies routinely recruit from each others workforce.”
Veridus has received $199,068.18 in total from the PACs. The money to Veridus has been categorized as “professional services – consultants” and “communications – advertising.” Arizonans For Affordable Electricity recently ran Twitter ads that used images of violent felons in an attempt to scare voters out of signing the Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona petition.
Another firm receiving a portion of the APS money is Ragan LLC, a firm operated by John and Ashley Ragan. It has received $48,812 from the two PACs. John Ragan is the Chief Operating Officer for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which is opposing the clean energy ballot. Ashley Ragan is the treasurer for both of the utility’s PACs. In addition to her role with Ragan LLC, Ashley Ragan is a partner and southwestern regional director for Total Spectrum Arizona and a vice president for Prosper. In 2013, APS admitted – after first denying – that it funneled money through a consulting firm to Prosper, which then funded ads to attack rooftop solar. The utility spent $9 million on public relations efforts to fight rooftop solar during that year.
Arizonans for Affordable Electricity also used $472,083 of the utility cash for robocalls, many of which also focused on the same claim that the clean energy signature gatherers were felons. Arizonans for Sustainable Energy Policy has spent $41,000 to date on polling.
In addition to fighting the Clean Energy Healthy Arizona ballot, APS has in the past used similar independent expenditures to support reelection campaigns of regulators that it favors. The two PACs have a total of $3.65 million cash on hand.
In 2014, APS never confirmed nor denied the widely held suspicion that secretly spent $3.2 million through intermediaries to elect Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little to the ACC over both their primary opponents and Democrats Jim Holway and Sandra Kennedy.
In 2016, APS openly spent $4.2 million to elect Republicans Andy Tobin, Boyd Dunn, and Bob Burns to the ACC via a similar committee, the AZ Coalition for Reliable Electricity, defeating Democrats William Mundell and Tom Chabin by slim margins.
Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona turned in over 480,000 signatures to the Secretary of State earlier this month despite APS’ efforts. The signatures still must be validated. That group reported receiving a total of $4.5 million from NextGen Climate Action.