The political action committees for Southwest Gas and Pinnacle West, Arizona Public Service’s parent company, have maxed out their contribution limits to Kari Lake, Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, according to third-quarter campaign finance reports that the companies filed on October 15. Both utilities have also given to the Republican Governors Association, a political committee which is supporting Lake. 

Southwest Gas’s Arizona PAC contributed $5,300 to Kari Lake’s campaign, the maximum contribution for a PAC giving to a statewide candidate. Pinnacle West’s PAC contributed $10,600 to Lake, the maximum contribution in Arizona for PACs with “mega-PAC” status. According to Arizona campaign finance reporting, a PAC can qualify for mega-PAC status through the Secretary of State if it can prove receipt of at least $10 from at least 500 individuals for the four years prior to applying. 

Lake, falsely claims President Biden’s election was “stolen,” and adheres to a far-right platform built on anti-abortion policies, increased border control, and concerns over critical race theory, vowing to rid schools of “woke teaching.” The gubernatorial candidate also has refused a pledge to accept the results of the election in Arizona, saying that “I’m going to win the election, and I will accept that result.” 

Lake has not released a climate or energy plan; she has focused on opportunities to expand water access in Arizona in the face of a decades-long drought in the Southwest. In a September town hall, Lake stated her preference for nuclear energy. In an interview with E&E News earlier this month, her policy advisor, Sam Stone, noted she would oppose renewable mandates. 
Lake’s opponent, Democrat Katie Hobbs, has released a “Resilient Arizona plan,” with goals of carbon-free energy by 2050 through residential renewable incentives, upgrading building codes and reestablishing a state-wide energy office.

AZ utilities contributed to Republican Governors Association

One month after Lake won her primary election on August 2, Pinnacle West gave $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which brought the utility’s total to $250,000 this year and $351,350 this election cycle. An RGA spokesperson reportedly said the group had plans to spend $11 million in advertisements to ensure a Lake victory. 

RGA also received $10,000 from Southwest Gas and $50,450 from Salt River Project, an Arizona public power utility, this election cycle.  

Lake is not the only candidate contesting the integrity of elections who received support from the Pinnacle West PAC. Republican state senator Sonny Borrelli prompted an attorney general investigation to investigate (among other issues), the routers and passwords used for vote-tabulation machines. Borrelli’s committee received $1,000 from Pinnacle West this year. In 2018, Borrelli introduced legislation intended to allow APS and other utilities to ignore a 50% renewable energy requirement by 2030 if voters passed it by ballot initiative. APS has since changed course and pledged to achieve 65% clean energy and 45% renewable energy by 2030. 

Other Arizona recipients of Pinnacle West PAC money who have questioned the integrity of the 2020 election – despite lack of evidence – include Republican state representatives Kevin Payne and John Fillmore and Republican state senator J.D. Mesnard.

No utility money in ACC elections

Two of the five seats at the Arizona Corporation Commission– the utility regulatory body in the state– are up for election. Arizona is one of 10 states where commissioners are elected statewide by voters. The ACC sets rates for electric and gas utilities and has jurisdiction over a variety of other  energy policies. 

In 2019, in response to Commissioner Sandra Kennedy’s subpoena, Pinnacle West revealed how the utility sought to influence prior ACC elections. One disclosure showed that in 2014, Pinnacle West gave $12.9 million to 16 different political groups. The company said in its letter to the commission that $10.7 million went to groups that sought to influence both primary and general elections at the ACC that year. The 2014 ACC election was contentious and pitted candidates with different views on how APS and other utilities should treat solar customers against one another. The candidates that APS secretly funded, Tom Forese and Doug Little, won their elections. In the ensuing years, the ACC voted to approve of a rate increase on customers and other changes that harmed rooftop solar adoption, all of which APS had sought – Forese and Little voted in favor. 

This year, the Republican and Democratic ACC candidates are participating in the Clean Elections candidate program, which means they have agreed to forgo special interest and high dollar contributions. APS or other utilities could still make independent expenditures to promote or oppose candidates, but they have not done so thus far. APS’ current CEO, Jeff Guldner, pledged that the company would not seek to influence ACC elections when he assumed leadership of the company in 2019.

In February 2022, Kennedy– who is running for reelection – again requested details about APS’s political spending. In response, APS provided details about its past 9 years of political spending, including $4.8 million in outside lobbying expenses, $93.2 million on advertising and marketing, and $73.6 million spent on political groups. APS said that it has included some of its marketing and advertising spending in customers’ rates. 

Posted by Keriann Conroy