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Government agencies should stick to their core missions

There has been a disturbing trend lately of government officials – elected and appointed – straying so far beyond their agencies’ mandate that they’re encroaching on Arizonans’ constitutionally protected right to free speech.

First was the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which last month sought to adopt new rules that would bring under the commission’s regulatory oversight candidates who don’t participate in publicly funded elections, as well as independent entities that support the election or defeat of candidates. This would be a vast overreach of authority. Secretary of State Michele Reagan is already Arizona’s chief elections officer; we don’t need overlapping regulations by multiple agencies.

Glenn Hamer

Glenn Hamer

The commission is currently circulating for public comment a new proposal that seeks to address some of the concerns that a broad coalition of members of the business community raised. We remain hopeful that the commission will choose to stick to regulating candidates who opt to rely public funding to conduct their campaigns, rather than attempting to engage in activities already managed by the secretary of state.

Now the Arizona Corporation Commission is getting in on the act. The ACC regulates utilities, railroad and pipeline safety, and securities. It has nothing to do with the regulation of political speech and elections.

Yet on the ACC’s September 8-9 meeting agenda is a docket opened by commissioners Susan Bitter Smith and Bob Burns that would inject the ACC into the regulation of electoral politics. Commissioners Bitter Smith and Burns are requesting that “public service corporations and unregulated entities that appear before the commission agree to voluntarily refrain from making contributions in support of or in opposition to Corporation Commission candidates.” The two commissioners justify their request by citing the public’s apparent diminished opinion of the ACC that results when companies support or oppose ACC candidates.

But just how “voluntary” is this request of businesses not to engage in free speech? The letter by the commissioners acknowledges that businesses have a First Amendment right to support or oppose candidates, that there is no indication that entities with business before the ACC have failed to comply with campaign finance laws, and that campaign finance issues are not in the ACC’s purview.  However, the letter also says that the ACC will consider whether an audit of public service corporations is warranted and whether it will request financial information from unregulated entities.

The implication is clear: Muzzle yourself or face an audit.

The proposal by Bitter Smith and Burns seeks to expand the reach of the ACC far beyond anything contemplated by the state Constitution and, much as we saw in the case of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, ventures into a regulatory space already under the oversight of the secretary of state and, for enforcement matters, the attorney general. Even more disturbing about the action by Bitter Smith and Burns, however, is the significant impact the ACC can have on a business’ bottom line. Once again, a broad coalition of business organizations has weighed in in opposition to this proposal to chill constitutionally protected free speech.

Whether it’s the unelected Clean Elections Commission or the elected Corporation Commission, commissioners in either body can petition the Legislature or the secretary of state if they believe that state campaign finance laws need to be reformed. They cannot, however, rewrite campaign laws themselves.

These commissions’ exploration of areas outside their mandates has been an unfortunate waste of time and energy. Both commissions would be best served to permanently set these issues aside and get back to their core missions.

-Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry

5 comments

  1. Heavens, Glenn, we wouldn’t want the Clean Elections Commission to actually make sure elections are clean, would we? And neither would we want the AZ Corporation Commission to actually regulate utilities!

    AZ is sticking its foot in its mouth over and over — and over. AZ is the laughingstock of the solar industry, most everyone I know who is familiar with policy sees AZ’s solar future as a lost cause — for now.

    As I’ve said many times: AZ is 40-45% coal and 5% solar (half of that is distributed, no thanks to the utilities, rather they have been trying to kill DG). AZ runs coal plants on groundwater. Do you understand how tragically stupid that is? Apparently not.

    In a water-stressed state, solar PV uses no water, while coal plants guzzle 16,000 gallons per MWh looking at the life-cycle use of water (see Burning Our Rivers).

    Here’s the sad part: by promoting the idea that a handful of industries should be allowed to purchase AZ’s “democracy,” you are doing an enormous disservice to not just the public but also to true conservatives.

    Plain and simple, our existing incumbent industries, particularly electric utilities, are hanging on to the past and will not go quietly. Solar makes so much sense in AZ (the Saudi Arabia of solar) that it hurts. The greed and short-sightedness of those who are pushing outdated, dirty, inefficient coal plants, while pretending it’s GOOD for AZ to import $2-3 BILLION worth of fossil fuel each year are this year’s Emperor Without Clothing.

  2. Not an overreach at all. CCEC clearly intends to administer the voter enacted law the voters intended.

    If anyone is overreaching, it’s Reagan. She has now spent taxpayer funds to advance a partisan effort to further promote voter apathy, with her brief in Harris v AIRC. All the while shirking her responsibility to exercise the responsibility she has to monitor and enforce campaign finance law.

  3. Corporations are property. They are not persons. That corporations have “rights” the same as people is only possible via legal fiction.

    I’ll believe a corporation is a person when Texas executes one.

  4. This isn’t an opinion piece it’s propaganda for the shortsighted – let’s make all the money we can THIS quarter and we’ll worry about the future when it’s the present, type of big business. Look who he represents afterall. Shame on AZ Capitol Times for printing such an obviously bias position. Want a real opinion? Ask real people with no investment in the outcome.

  5. Mr. Hammer,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t your organization lobbied the Legislature or sued to get rid of or reduce the effectiveness of Clean Elections, or make it more difficult to run as a Clean Election candidate?

    Your organization doesn’t like the fact that candidates have an alternative to the big money spenders you used to control who ran for office. It’s an annoyance that you have to bother spending money to defeat Clean Election candidates who are not beholden to special interests.

    It’s so obvious what APS and other big spenders are trying or have succeeded in doing — buying candidates. Arizona residents are sick of the continued influence peddling that goes on here and around the country. That’s why most new voters are registering as Independents and when the electorate wakes up and starts supporting candidates who are not beholder to party politics, that’s when this state will get back to what it’s original residents intended. Better and properly funded schools, more oversight of utilities and a better life for the common people, not the special interests.

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