Tobin running to keep Corp Comm seat

Rachel Leingang//March 28, 2016

Tobin running to keep Corp Comm seat

Rachel Leingang//March 28, 2016


Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin will seek a full term on the commission in this year’s election.

Tobin filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office Monday to begin his campaign.

The former speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives was appointed to the commission by Gov. Doug Ducey in January after Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith resigned over conflict-of-interest allegations.

Until Monday’s filing with the secretary of state, Tobin had not said if he would seek a full term on the commission or merely fill out the remainder of Bitter Smith’s term.

Tobin’s term so far included a conflict-of-interest concern over his son-in-law’s job at SolarCity, requiring Tobin to recuse himself from votes related to the solar company. He also has a brother who works for an arm of Cox Communications, parts of which are regulated by the commission.

Tobin is seeking a legislative change to the conflict-of-interest statutes that would allow him to vote on issues involving those two companies.

He told the Arizona Capitol Times he’s running because, as he’s traveled around the state to talk to people in rural areas, he’s hearing a lot of feedback about matters that need to be addressed, including efficiencies at the commission and ongoing water issues.

He also clarified that he will run with or without the legislation aimed at conflict-of-interest statutes.

“The son-in-law is remote at best, for the common sense people. For my brother, it’s even further away. My enemies will continue to do this and continue to throw that out, I get it, but I’m not going to be intimidated and have them attack my family. I’m not going to be intimidated into not running,” Tobin said.

Tobin, a longtime critic of Clean Elections, is running a traditional campaign, foregoing the public campaign funding system, which is a rarity for the commission in recent years. The conventional wisdom on Corporation Commission races is to receive public financing, especially considering that utilities and other entities with business before the commission typically do not contribute to candidates, at least not directly.

Tobin noted that while it might be uncommon to choose a traditional campaign, he is not forced to run under Clean Elections.  In the last election, now-commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little ran with public funds, but there was still an influx of outside money, he observed.

“If everyone’s running so clean… why is there so much turmoil over these elections at the commission?” Tobin said, adding that “just because it says ‘Clean Elections’ doesn’t mean it’s clean.”

Tobin said “many, many Arizonans” he has worked with over the years as an elected official would want to contribute to his campaign. They potentially include pro-life and pro-Israel groups that have seen his record, and those “who don’t have business in front of the commission who think I stand well for rural Arizona.”

He said he doesn’t intend to take any contributions from utilities or other entities with business before the commission, though he added he can’t tell people not to participate in elections.

“If you have rate cases up in front of the Corporation Commission, please don’t write me a check,” he said.

An analysis of Corporation Commission candidates over the past 10 years shows most run with Clean Elections funding and, of those who ran traditional, few were successful in recent years.

In 2014, Lucy Mason ran a traditional campaign, raising about $33,000. Independent expenditure committees spent about $141,000 supporting Mason and about $87,000 opposing her, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

Clean Elections candidates for Corporation Commission can get $102,711 for a primary election and $154,067 for a general election. They are allowed to raise up to $25,678 in early contributions, capped at $160 per individual.

Mason was the only candidate who ran traditionally in 2014, and no Corporation Commission candidates ran traditionally in 2012.

The Corporation Commission candidate who had the most well-financed traditional campaign in the past 10 years was Democrat Sam George, formerly Sam Vagenas, who spent about $540,000 of his own money on his campaign and was the sole donor.

The term Tobin was appointed to complete ends this year. In total, there are three commission seats up for election this year. Commissioner Bob Stump is facing term limits and will be replaced, while Commissioner Bob Burns is running for re-election.

Democrats Tom Chabin and Bill Mundell are running for the commission. Former Republican Sen. Al Melvin is also running, as is Republican Rep. Rick Gray.

Tobin needs to gather 5,790 valid signatures by June 1 to appear on the 2016 ballot.