A flood of money from solar interests is overwhelming the spending in the race for the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Save Our AZ Solar reported Friday that it has spent $667,082 to help incumbent Republican Bob Burns survive a five-way race for three available slots. That figure reflects spending through Aug. 18, with the possibility of additional dollars may show up on post-primary reports.
By contrast, Al Melvin and Rick Gray, running with public dollars, each got $102,711 from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission for their primary race. Each had to gather 1,700 $5 donations to qualify.
They each also have about another $20,000 they were entitled to raise privately.
Gray, a current state representative, and Melvin, a former state senator, are running together as a ticket along with Andy Tobin. He was appointed earlier this year by Gov. Doug Ducey to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Susan Bitter Smith.
Tobin, however, opted not to seek public funding, instead relying on private donations. But his campaign finance report shows he has only $49,380 in contributions for the race.
Former judge Boyd Dunn, also running with private dollars, reported contributions of $90,450.
Burns, who is an incumbent seeking a second four-year term, also has opted to run the race with individual donations. So far they total more than $55,000.
But the real wind beneath his campaign is the money spent by Save Our AZ Solar.
It is financed by SolarCity, which has been in a running dispute with Arizona Public Service and other electric utilities over their plans to change how much they charge customers who generate their own power with their own rooftop solar units. Those changes include limiting what utilities have to pay those customers who generate excess power as well as imposing a “demand charge,” which links a ratepayer’s bill to his or her peak demand rather than just the amount of energy used.
Solar groups contend such changes would kill the demand for rooftop solar units.
By law, any spending by Save Our AZ Solar cannot be coordinated with Burns.
Burns has gained favor among solar advocates at least in part because of his efforts to force APS to disclose how much it spent in the 2014 race.
Corporations are precluded from giving directly to candidates. But an APS spokesman has refused to confirm or deny that the utility is the source of some of the $3.2 million spent that year by two outside groups to elect Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little.
Those outside groups are required to disclose their spending. But they contend they are “social welfare” organizations, which need not make public the source of their funds.
One of the three survivors of Tuesday’s GOP primary is assured a seat on the commission. That’s because only two Democrats are running for the three available seats: Bill Mundell, who served previously on the commission, albeit when he was a Republican, and former representative Tom Chabin.
Both are publicly financed and got the same $102,711 as Gray and Melvin.