State investigators are working to recover text messages that utility regulator Bob Stump sent and received right before last year’s Republican primary, Capitol Media Services has learned.
Ryan Anderson, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Wednesday that multiple forensic examinations of the phone turned up “thousands of texts.” Potentially more significant, he said the equipment being used has the capability of recovering texts that Stump sent and received even before he had this particular phone.
That could prove crucial to answering questions about what information Stump was exchanging both with the candidates who he was supporting as well as outside “dark money” groups that were trying to influence the race but could not legally coordinate with the candidates themselves.
Public records already show a pattern of text exchanges. What the examination of the phone should reveal is their content — and whether any laws were broken.
The disclosure comes at a solar-backed group filed suit Wednesday to get its own hands on Stump’s phone.
Dan Barr, representing the Checks and Balances Project, has been trying to get the texts since March. And when questions were raised about whether they were available, Barr sought the actual phone, saying he had experts who could retrieve long-deleted messages.
In July, Jodi Jerich, executive director of the Arizona Corporation Commission, turned the phone over to the Attorney General’s Office.
“They’ve had it long enough,” Barr said Wednesday.
“Either they have extracted the information from the phone and it can be provided to us, or they haven’t,” he said. And Barr said if the state’s own investigators can’t recover the deleted messages “we have somebody who can do a better job.”
That, however, may not be necessary if the state investigation turns up the older messages.
At issue are texts in the months leading up to the 2014 primary.
When Barr first requested the texts, David Cantelme, an attorney for the commission, said they were not available because the iPhone 3 Stump was using “no longer exists.” Cantelme said Stump disposed of his state-issued phone to get a new iPhone 5, also from the state.
That’s the phone Jerich took from Stump and eventually gave to the Attorney General’s Office.
What makes that significant is that the iPhone 5 can have texts that predated Stump’s acquisition of it, with data exchanged between each phone Stump used and either a computer or “cloud” storage. More to the point, those messages could cover the months ahead of the primary, meaning the public may finally get a chance to see what the utility regulator was so busy texting about — and whether they related to the election.
What is already known is that Stump exchanged 100 texts with Scot Mussi of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, including 46 in a one-month period prior to the primary. This is significant because Stump was backing the Tom Forese and Doug Little in the race. And the Free Enterprise Club spent more than $300,000 last year to get the pair nominated over GOP foes who ran on a platform of promoting more solar energy.
Arizona law allows outside groups to help elect candidates. And because the Free Enterprise Club is incorporated as a “social welfare” organization, it need not disclose its donors.
But Arizona law does say that any effort to influence an election has to be done independent of any candidate.
The log of texts, kept by Verizon, also showed 160 messages exchanged with the phone registered to Little and his wife, and another 18 with Forese.
Separately, there were 54 with Barbara Lockwood, an executive at Arizona Public Service.
There is no record of direct spending by APS or Pinnacle West Capital Corp., its parent company, on the 2014 race. But APS has not denied that it spent money through others to influence the outcome of last year’s races for who sits on the board that regulates all investor-owned utilities.
Stump, in response to Wednesday’s lawsuit, called it “another tiresome political attack by a D.C.-based dark money group” funded by solar manufacturers and installers.
Scott Peterson, the group’s executive director, said he has never hidden the fact that it gets money from the “renewable energy” industry.
But he said that does not undermine the effort to determine if Stump acted improperly in pushing some candidates. And he took a swat at Stump for complaining about the effort to recover the texts.
“Commissioner Stump seems to be channeling Hillary’s excuses about the public business on electronic communications,” Peterson said, referring to issues with Clinton’s emails.