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Rejecting utility contributions protects democracy, environment

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At every level of government, elected officials represent the voices of the constituents they serve. They should be accountable to no one but the people.

Unfortunately for us, monopoly utilities like Arizona Public Service are corroding this most fundamental democratic agreement, spending in our elections like never before. So far this year APS parent company Pinnacle West has invested $22 million in efforts to fight the clean energy ballot initiative voters are set to decide on this November.

Laura Dent

Laura Dent

In 2016, APS reported outside elections spending of more than $10 million. And in 2014, it’s widely believed (though APS won’t confirm) that the utility spent $3.2 million to influence races for the Arizona Corporation Commission – the regulators who oversee and decide how much we pay for our energy.

There’s plenty of financial incentive for them to do so. APS made $488 million in profits last year alone, and is currently pursuing their second consumer rate increase before the commission in the past 14 months. These profits come from the pockets of the 1.2 million ratepayers in Arizona who have no choice but to pay APS every month to keep the lights on. Trying to influence the elections of the regulators who oversee rate-setting and energy policy represents a serious conflict of interest that should concern every Arizonan.

Beyond outside political spending, APS donates directly to candidates, too. They’ve spent handsomely on Gov. Doug Ducey, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, and candidates and state legislators on both sides of the aisle. To a far lesser extent, Salt River Project and Tucson Electric Power have done the same. Many of these elected officials have taken actions and public positions in the past several months to shore up fossil fuel interests, advance tax breaks for coal, and undercut renewable energy.

We, as customers, don’t have a choice as to who provides our electric power. But we can decide who represents us. We need decision-makers to oversee these utilities in an independent and unbiased fashion. We need leaders to act with integrity and demonstrate their commitment to shaping energy policy in the best interests of our future, not the highest bidder. This means rejecting monopoly utility contributions – to demonstrate autonomy and restore the public trust.

Candidates and elected officials must recognize that accepting political contributions from monopoly utilities damages public confidence in our institutions. It’s why Chispa Arizona, a program of the League of Conservation Voters, has asked candidates to take a pledge to reject these contributions. Refusing to accept utility money serves as a clear sign to voters that the people’s interests come first.

This year has shown us that APS and Pinnacle West have become far more brazen when it comes to influencing our elections. This massive investment sends a clear signal: they are unabashed in their approach, they understand the power of their political spending, and they are not afraid to leverage ratepayer dollars to advance their corporate interests.

Arizonans deserve strong leaders and candidates who are explicit and unbiased in their representation of our communities and our ratepayers in the face of big utility spending. This is what a government of the people, by the people, for the people should be.

— Laura Dent is executive director of Chispa Arizona.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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