A growing number of elected Democrats in Arizona say they won’t accept campaign funding from Arizona Public Service, the utility that has come under fire for its massive spending on political campaigns.
APS spent tens of millions on political campaigns, as well as $1.4 million on candidates
When Arizona Public Service Company CEO Jeff Guldner appears before the Arizona Corporation Commission this week, he will likely face questions about the tens of millions of dollars the utility has spent on political campaigns.
A review of the filings APS provided in response to Commissioner Sandra Kennedy’s subpoena last year revealed that the utility and its parent company Pinnacle West reported spending more than $72 million on political campaigns between 2013 and 2018, as well as $4.5 million on lobbying, and $59 million on marketing. APS also spent more than $46 million on charitable giving, which sometimes appears aimed at influencing regulators.
Those figures don’t include the money that Pinnacle West Political Action Committee (PAC) has contributed directly to candidates running for elected office, which are reported to the Federal Election Commission for federal elections and the Arizona Secretary of State for state and local elections.
The National Institute on Money in Politics, which compiles that election spending data, shows that during that six year period, Pinnacle West PAC contributed $1.4 million to political candidates, with more than twice as much money going to Republicans than Democrats. Of that $1.4 million, most went to candidates running for federal office, while $445,924 went to candidates running for state office, mostly for state senator and representative. Pinnacle West PAC contributions to candidates running for state office were more partisan than those to candidates running for federal office, with about four times more money going to Republicans than Democrats.
Arizona Democratic party leaders and advocates reject APS money
In August, Arizona Democratic Party Chair Felecia Rotellini said that the state party “takes no money from APS” since she became chair.
In 2018, U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva returned money that his campaign had received from APS. Representative Grijalva is the longest-serving member of the Arizona Congressional delegation, and Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
In an op-ed published in the Arizona Capitol Times, Chispa Arizona Executive Director Laura Dent argued that legislators should reject contributions from APS and other monopoly utilities:
We, as customers, don’t have a choice as to who provides our electric power. But we can decide who represents us. We need decision-makers to oversee these utilities in an independent and unbiased fashion. We need leaders to act with integrity and demonstrate their commitment to shaping energy policy in the best interests of our future, not the highest bidder. This means rejecting monopoly utility contributions – to demonstrate autonomy and restore the public trust.
Candidates and elected officials must recognize that accepting political contributions from monopoly utilities damages public confidence in our institutions. It’s why Chispa Arizona, a program of the League of Conservation Voters, has asked candidates to take a pledge to reject these contributions. Refusing to accept utility money serves as a clear sign to voters that the people’s interests come first.
The refusals reflect a trend among Democrats to reject campaign contributions from investor-owned utilities in some states where those companies have become scandalized. In Virginia, 40 of the 55 Democrats in the House of Delegates, nine of the 21 Democrats in the Senate, the attorney general, the lieutenant governor and the Democratic Party of Virginia have all pledged not to accept campaign contributions from Dominion Energy or other monopoly utilities.
Like APS, Dominion has become controversial for its political contributions, its manipulation of customers’ rates and bills, and its investments in fossil fuels.
More elected Democrats won’t accept money from APS
A survey of elected Democrats in the Arizona State Legislature conducted by the Energy and Policy Institute in January 2020 shows that some state senators and representatives won’t accept campaign contributions from APS. Some elected officials said they had pledged not to accept campaign contributions from APS, and some said they had returned contributions from APS. Others described their rejection of APS money as part of a broader commitment on how they fund their campaign, such as the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, a rejection of money from corporate Political Action Committees, or running as a Clean Elections candidate.
Senator Lela Alston said she “has committed to not accepting contributions from APS/Pinnacle West.”
Representative Randy Friese said “I received an APS contribution earlier this week. I do plan on returning it.”
Senator Andrea Dalessandro said “When first taking office in 2013, they gave me a check for $1,000. It was promptly returned because I was running for re-election as a Clean Elections Candidate. Yesterday, I again qualified for Clean Elections Funding for my 2020 House race.”
Representative Andres Cano said he received a contribution from APS in 2019, but plans to give it back.
Representative Isela Blanc said she is a Clean Elections candidate, and “I have also signed a pledge to avoid accepting donations from APS.”
Senator Victoria Steele sent a photo of herself holding a poster with the “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge, which reads: “I pledge not to take contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industry and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.”
The “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge FAQ explains that the pledge includes electric utilities for which “Over 50% of its net power generated is derived from oil, gas, and/or coal” and lists APS among those companies.
State Representatives Lorenzo Sierra, Isela Blanc, and Mitzi Epstein also signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.
Representative Athena Salman said “The legislative district 26 clean elections team (Senator Juan Mendez, Melody Hernandez for House and myself) does not take money from APS. Additionally, we take no PAC money nor special interest money. The bulk of our money comes from public funding. A smaller portion is from small dollar contributions capped at $170. We run this way because it is the most authentic and grassroots way to run for office free of the undue influence by the wealthy. I wish our opponents could say the same, but unfortunately they are running dirty and raising money from corporate backed interests.”
Representative Jennifer Longdon said “I do not accept corporate PAC money.”
Representative Amish Shah said “I pledged that I would only accept individual contributions for my state office candidacy. I do not accept money from any PACs.”
Senator David Bradley said “My position is not to send any contribution from APS back to them but to send the contribution to Wildfire the Community Action Association. It is a non-profit that among other things assists people with their utility bills. Since I am not running for anything in 2020 I don’t anticipate receiving any campaign contributions. If I were to receive something from APS I would forward it to Wildfire.”
Senator Martin Quezada said “I do not have a position on this issue, but having been a vocal and ardent opponent of most policy proposals APS supports, I don’t ever expect to be offered significant assistance. In fact they have provided significant funding to my opponent on more than one occasion… My campaigns have accepted fairly insignificant contributions from them in the past when offered. I don’t know what I will do if those contributions are offered again this cycle. To date, they have not.”
Representative Richard Andrade said “I do accept contributions from APS/Pinnacle West. I strongly support Chispa Arizona on their efforts on green energy and being more environmentally friendly to our planet. The only way we will be able to hold APS accountable is making sure elected officials from Corporation Commission to the legislature approach and discuss the impacts some of their decisions have on our constituents. We need to hold them accountable when they shut power off when a customer is struggling to pay their electric bill. I also worry, with global warming which means longer hot summers, and peak pricing will further burden customers with higher energy costs… A contribution from APS like in my case does not mean I am not holding them accountable and many times have advised them, I represent my constituents 1st.”
Update: Representative Andrade said “I did send back the APS check this year.”
State legislators not named above did not respond to inquiries about their position on rejecting contributions from APS, including:
State Senators Sean Bowie, Lupe Contreras, Sally Ann Gonzales, Tony Navarrete, Lisa Otondo, Jamescita Peshlakai, Rebecca Rios.
State Representatives Reginald Bolding Jr., Kelli Butler, César Chávez, Domingo DeGrazia, Kirsten Engel, Mitzi Epstein, Diego Espinoza, Charlene Fernandez, Rosanna Gabaldón, Alma Hernandez, Daniel Hernandez Jr., Jennifer Jermaine, Aaron Lieberman, Jennifer Pawlik, Geraldine Peten, Pamela Powers Hannley, Diego Rodriguez, Lorenzo Sierra, Arlando Teller, Raquel Terán, Myron Tsosie. The Energy and Policy Institute asked State Rep. Robert Meza in 2018 whether his multiple financial ties to APS affected his decision to oppose a renewable energy measure also opposed by APS. He said then that the ties created “no conflict of interest.” Meza’s PAC received $50,000 from Pinnacle West later that summer.