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APS allies attack company critic on Twitter

APS customer Stacey Champion tells state utility regulators on Wednesday they acted improperly in approving a rate hike for the company and urged them to roll back the charges. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

APS customer Stacey Champion tells state utility regulators on July 10 they acted improperly in approving a rate hike for the company and urged them to roll back the charges. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Arizona Public Service and its allies unleashed a Twitter attack on one of its harshest critics over the weekend following a published commentary from Cindy McCain about the company’s CEO Don Brandt.

McCain, whose commentary appeared in the Arizona Republic July 27,  wrote highly of Brandt,  and even compared him to her late husband. She talked about how U.S. Sen. John McCain was “vilified by political opponents and critics on both sides of the aisle” and transitioned into how protesters staged a “dangerous scene outside the reception hall, engaging in unfair personal attacks and chanting heinous messages crafted to incite hate and fear” as Brandt was being honored with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Heritage Award on June 20. 

McCain also talked about how Brandt was there for her and her husband in times of need. 

Brandt received the award following news that a Sun City West woman had died after APS cut off her power – on a 107-degree day – for nonpayment. 

Don Brandt

Don Brandt

Stephanie Pullman had paid all but $51 of her final APS bill, but the company shut off her power and she died days later. The coroner’s report stated that heat was a contributing factor to her death.

Brandt has come under intense scrutiny since then, with some calling for his removal. 

McCain’s column set the stage for the July 27 Twitter torrent against Stacey Champion, the owner of a public relations firm who most recently sought to overturn a 2017 APS rate hike approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission. At a July 10 hearing on the matter, she alternately argued that the increase was unjustified while also attacking the regulators for voting for the plan in the first place. 

APS lobbyist Chad Guzman singled out Champion on Twitter , saying, “Listen up, Stacy Champion,” followed by this quote from McCain’s column: “Individuals who demagogue for the sole purpose of furthering their own personal objectives are clouding reasoned judgment and civil discourse.” 

 

The tweet was shared and liked by a bevy of APS supporters that includes Matthew Benson, a lobbyist who acted as a spokesman for the APS-funded Arizonans for Affordable Electricity during the defeat of Proposition 127 in 2018. 

Jessica Pacheco, APS vice president of communications and community affairs, state chamber president and CEO Glenn Hamer, and Ginger Brandt, Don’s wife, also liked Guzman’s tweet.

Stacey Champion had her own team of supporters who rallied behind her. 

Attorney Tom Ryan was quick to respond to the Guzman tweet. He said Champion “gets no compensation for her advocacy. She advocates for the poor and the downtrodden. Don Brandt sucks up $12M + while APS customers suffer poor service, outages, and even death. P.S. APS cheated on Prop 127. Care to discuss Brother Chad?!” 

Guzman responded to Ryan by claiming that Champion is a paid lobbyist for Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association, which is one of Champion’s PR firm’s clients, but the Arizona Secretary of State records show that Champion is not a paid lobbyist of AriSEIA or anyone else. 

When pressed on that fact, Guzman called out Champion for previously blocking him on Twitter and allowing someone to speak on her behalf. 

“She can unblock me if she wants to defend herself. I’m sure she doesn’t need you to do it for her,” he said. 

David Leibowtiz, who has since made his Twitter private, joined in, saying Champion wouldn’t allow him to see her books. 

“Interestingly, when I contributed to her campaign and then asked to see the books, I was immediately blocked. And denied.” 

Champion said the only contribution he made to her was $10 to her legal fund.

“I wasn’t interested in accepting $10 from Leibowitz for my legal fund, so I immediately refunded his money,” she told Capitol Times

Leibowitz then continued on a tweet storm but at another Twitter user, saying Champion is far less transparent than APS. 

“Compared to Stacy Champion, @apsfyi looks like a paragon of transparency,” he wrote still referring to her “books.” 

Champion has repeatedly said she is not being paid for any of her APS-related work. She reiterated this point in an Arizona Mirror column, saying she has been advocating, “without pay or financial benefit, on behalf of the thousands of Arizona Public Service captive ratepayers, many of whom are our most vulnerable citizens, for the past 19 months.” 

Champion has set up a crowd-sourced legal fund to help with attorney’s fees and has been open about needing help to pay them. 

The battle didn’t end before members of the Arizona Legislature got involved.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale chimed in saying, “The activism of @ChampPR is proof any of us have the ability & potential to take down the most corrupt & most powerful. No politician or corporation, not even @apsFYI can withstand the power of those who are fighting for justice, fairness & the people rather than profits,” he said. 

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma – after being tagged by Champion as someone who also protested outside when Brandt was being awarded – reminded her followers how many shutoffs there had been in her district. 

 

Guzman continued his accusation of Champion being paid to lobby for AriSEIA, which in turn garnered more support for Champion.

Nathan Sproul, a Republican strategist and political consultant, said how bad it looks that APS and Brandt had to enlist Cindy McCain to do its dirty work.

“I think the fact that Don Brandt was forced to call in a huge favor from Cindy McCain speaks volumes about how concerned he is that the dam may be breaking,” he said. 

Ties run deep between APS and the McCain family.

Brandt (and his wife) also contributed personal money to McCain’s final senate run in 2016, FEC filings show

The monopoly utility has given at least $100,000 to The McCain Institute, where both Cindy McCain and Don Brandt sit on the board of trustees.

Court Rich, an attorney at Rose Law Group, came to Champion’s defense too to quickly squash the inaccurate statement Guzman kept pushing. 

“Chad, this is false and my guess is that you know that,” Rich replied.

Guzman came back with the same retort he made multiple times that she can unblock him and fight her own battles.

The Twitter beef comes directly on the heels of all five commissioners requesting Brandt voluntarily show up to the open meeting in August and answer 67+ questions relating to APS’ disconnection policy and the three known deaths caused by shut offs.

Brandt has since accepted, but asked to push back the date so he can prepare his answers, and Commission Chairman Bob Burns told Capitol Media Services he thinks that’s a fair request.

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