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Goldwater Institute to APS: Political spending may violate 1st Amendment

A litigious libertarian think tank has asked the president of the state’s largest utility to account for the company’s political activity, and specifically whether the utility’s customers have been funding its electioneering or lobbying.

Goldwater Institute attorney Jon Riches explained in a letter sent Monday to APS President Donald Brandt that, because the utility is a regulated monopoly, and therefore has a captive market, electioneering done with ratepayer money could be seen as forcing their customers into funding the company’s political activity.

The letter asks Brandt to either admit or deny that ratepayers paid for electioneering activity, then asks for documents that support the company’s accounting of the electioneering either way.

Goldwater Institute faced off against APS last year over the issue of deregulation. The group favored the dismantling of APS’ monopoly in favor of a competitive utility market. APS opposed the idea and spent money to influence the outcome of deliberations of it by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

“We’re literally talking about the free speech rights of all their ratepayers,” Riches told the Arizona Capitol Times. “You can’t be forced to subsidize someone’s political speech… The specifics of the speech are irrelevant, but if it is ratepayer funds, we would view that as a first amendment violation.”

In his letter, Riches cited court rulings from other states that support his stance.

In late June, Goldwater Institute sent a public records request to APS asking for the same information, the letter references. But the utility did not produce the records, Riches said.

“We’ve received the letter and we’re reviewing it,” said APS spokesman Jim McDonald said of the most recent letter from Riches.

If the utility won’t cooperate with the request, Goldwater Institute may ask APS’ regulators to force them to do so.

“We’re asking that they voluntarily produce the records,” Riches said. “If they don’t, as we explain in the letter, we would probably ask the (Arizona Corporation Commission) to force them to produce them.”

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