Ties run deep, many between APS and Republican candidates for utility regulator

Dillon Rosenblatt//July 2, 2019

Ties run deep, many between APS and Republican candidates for utility regulator

Dillon Rosenblatt//July 2, 2019

APS solar cover companies

With three seats open and five Republicans already filed to run who have ties to Arizona Public Service, the Arizona Corporation Commission is shaping up for a big election in 2020.

Kim Owens, the latest Republican candidate to jump into the race, currently works as a senior account executive for Gordon C. James Public Relations and is the executive director of Dodie Londen Excellence in Public Service Series, both of which have connections to the biggest utility in the state. APS, the largest utility in the state, is regulated by the commission.

APS is one of Gordon C. James’ clients, (the first one listed on the firm’s website), but Owens at first denied any connection she may have.

“I don’t work on the APS file. They are not one of my clients,” she said.

However, Owens later acknowledged that while she doesn’t currently work with APS, she has done some work on behalf of Pinnacle West, the APS parent company, in the past, including web development for Trans Canyon, a Pinnacle West subsidiary, and communications work for a consortium of nuclear power plants, of which Pinnacle West was a member.

Owens joins Sen. David Farnsworth, who terms out of his senate seat in 2020; Eric Sloan, who unsuccessfully ran for the commission in 2018; Commissioner Boyd Dunn, who is up for re-election; and Lea Marquez Peterson, who was appointed to replace Andy Tobin in May though she has not filed to run, yet all signs point to that being likely.

At a minimum those four candidates have received contributions from APS or its parent company in previous elections, but some connections run deeper, including Owens who has a second connection to APS in addition to her PR firm.

Her position as head of the Dodie Londen program, a nonprofit which seeks to train Republican women to win elected office, received $100,000 in contributions from Pinnacle West, since 2014, according to Open Secrets.

Dodie Londen’s only expenditure in 2018 was for Owens’ $30,000 salary. But Owens said APS already had a relationship established with Dodie Londen long before she joined them.

“They’ve also given money to Emerge,” she said, noting that Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs was the director of Emerge, which is the Democratic equivalent of Dodie London.

Hobbs isn’t running for an office that regulates APS, however, but Owens said that APS spends money on a lot of professional development groups and political causes.

“That’s just part of their operating procedure,” she said.

She said people shouldn’t assume that because she has some peripheral ties to the energy giant that she will be in their pocket as a regulator, and that voters should instead look to her service as a longtime school board member and member of the Salt River Project Council.

Since SRP is not a monopoly, it is not regulated by the commission; instead it is regulated by its council.

Owens said her services there proves she understands energy policy, and shows that she has been a “watchdog” for the ratepayer.

The commission has been plagued with controversy after APS and its parent company covertly attempted to choose its own regulators in the 2014 commission election, on top of recent headlines regarding the power shut off of a 72-year-old woman in Sun City who later died due to heat-related factors.

Owens did not want to comment on the latter saying if she wins the race, it could be among the cases she is asked to weigh in on.

She did weigh in on her campaign Facebook page suggestions, which included implementing protocols about cutoffs during extreme weather conditions, additional notifications for at-risk customers and a public information campaign about financial assistance options.

“Much is being said and written about the tragic death of Stephanie Pullman. My first thoughts on learning of this was of her personal suffering and that of her family. Simply said, this cannot happen again. Ever,” she wrote on Facebook.

Owens is only the latest candidate to file, but the others running have ties to APS.

Farnsworth, during his re-election bid for the senate, received just more than $13,000 in contributions and $2,500 of that was from Pinnacle West PAC. He is vying for one of the three open seats in 2020 that are currently occupied by Dunn, Marquez Peterson and Chairman Bob Burns, who terms out.

Sloan, who ran in 2018, received $10,000 from Arizona Coalition for Reliable Electricity, the Pinnacle West-funded independent expenditure group that also supported Burns, Dunn and Tobin in 2016.

Documents that APS submitted to the commission showed that Sloan’s consulting firm, Sloan Lyons, worked for ACRE and received the money in October 2016. Sloan had chaired ACRE, which got $4 million from Pinnacle West and spent the money to help elect Burns, Dunn and Tobin. ACRE disclosed two payments to Sloan Lyons – one for $10,000 and another for $717.05 – later in 2016.

The APS document details the company’s campaign strategy to help the three Republicans get elected in 2016.

An email exchange among Doug Goodyear, the CEO of the consulting firm DCI Group, Jessica Pacheco of APS (who also sits on the Board of Governors at Dodie Londen) and Sara Mueller of SM Strategies in October 2016 mentioned Sloan.

In the email, Mueller asked Goodyear and Pacheco for permission to go ahead with a digital ad for ACRE.

“All the ad campaigns are built out on the back end so we are ready to ‘press play’ to target GOP voters upon creative approval,” Mueller said.

Pacheco replied, “I’m good.”

Goodyear also said he’s good with the ad.

“Proceed, and then work with Eric Sloan, Ashley Ragan, et al for the disclosure and communications with candidates,” Goodyear said.

The commission’s newest member, Marquez Peterson, also took money from APS/Pinnacle West in her 2018 bid for Congress.

Campaign finance data shows Pinnacle West contributed $2,500 to Marquez Peterson’s 2018 CD2 race, while David Hutchens, CEO of Tucson Electric Power, gave her $5,000.

Marquez Peterson now is in charge of regulating both APS and Tucson Electric Power.