The Grand Canyon State’s business community has no better cheerleader than Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Glenn Hamer.
However, in our view, his current effort to take the Arizona Corporation Commission and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to task for trying to inject much-needed transparency into our elections is not in the best interest of Arizona voters. We decided to respond together.
Both of our offices have clearly defined responsibilities under Arizona law. Voters approved Clean Elections in 1998 and Arizona is just one of a handful of states that have elected utility regulators.
Until the Citizens United case, utilities that wanted to advocate for or against the election of its regulators had to disclose such spending. In 2012, the campaign arm of Mr. Hamer’s chamber spent money donated by APS and Southwest Gas in Corporation Commission races. At the time, both companies had stated policies of refraining from spending in Corporation Commission races. Mr. Hamer honorably took responsibility for that mistake.
In 2014, the primary and general election contests drew millions of dollars in so-called dark money spending. Never before had so many political ads received so much attention. It was part of the most expensive, least transparent election in our history.
To be sure, no law or regulation prevents any utility or any other American corporation from participating in elections. Both the Arizona Corporation Commission and the Clean Elections Commission seek to ensure that entities that are obligated to file campaign finance reports do so and that there are clear rules so both election spenders and the public can understand how money is spent by and on behalf of candidates. Neither of us argues the lawful right of companies to spend money in the political arena, but voters should have more information, not less.
The Clean Elections Act clearly provides an independent campaign finance oversight role for the commission. And Article 15, Section 4 of the state Constitution reads:
“The corporation commission, and the several members thereof, shall have power to inspect and investigate the property, books, papers, business, methods, and affairs of any corporation whose stock shall be offered for sale to the public and of any public service corporation doing business within the state, and for the purpose of the commission, and of the several members thereof, shall have the power of a court of general jurisdiction to enforce the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence by subpoena, attachment, and punishment, which said power shall extend throughout the state.”
Disclosure is the bedrock of our democracy. Voters should be able to follow the money, understand how campaigns are financed and how election dollars are spent. In this way, voters are able to make informed decisions.
While we welcome Mr. Hamer’s thoughts, he might want to brush up on the law and the state Constitution that show both the Arizona Corporation Commission and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission are acting within their authority. And doing so for the benefit of the people.
— Robert Burns is a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission and Thomas Koester is chairman of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.