Can Chairman Stump Have it Both Ways? Only the Records Will Tell

Can Chairman Stump Have it Both Ways? Only the Records Will TellIn several news stories, The Arizona Daily Star on May 21, The Arizona Republic on May 22, Greentech Media on May 26, and Utility Drive on May 27, former Chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), Bob Stump, complained that excerpts from text message logs his agency provided were “cherry picked” to suggest he was at the heart of a dark money electoral scheme in 2014 to elect pro-utility members to the Commission. Stump asserted that the facts would show he was an equal opportunity texter.

“I would note that Checks and Balances… is cherry-picking text logs to paint an absurdly distorted picture.” – Stump to Arizona Daily Star.

“Stump told The Arizona Republic that the communications were not about the election, and said the group had cherry-picked a few text messages to distort the story.” – Stump to Arizona Republic.

In response to the Chairman’s concerns, we have published the full text log and names identified to date here.

Far from clearing Commissioner Stump, the full logs show a more damning fact set, particularly an overlap of texting with dark money electoral group head Scot Mussi, APS lobbyist Barbara Lockwood, Koch Industries operative Sean Noble, and then-candidate (now Commissioner) Tom Forese, and more.

Look Over Here!

The best we can tell, that’s why Commissioner Stump is now attempting to switch the subject with a victim play by railing about the opposite of “cherry picking,” the publishing of the full text logs.

According to Chairman Stump in today’s Arizona Republic story by Ryan Randazzo, the act of publishing the public records what we were given by the Commission is an invasion of his privacy and an “out of bounds” attack on his family members.

Inconvenient Facts

Before Mr. Stump invests more in playing the victim, it’s important to consider some inconvenient facts:

  • The request did nothing to the ACC’s ability – and its responsibility – to sift out Mr. Stump’s private messages from public business he chose to transact on his taxpayer-funded cell phone.
  • We have no interest in Mr. Stump’s personal life. We are out to enforce public access to public records.
  • We also have no ability – or responsibility – to know the roster of Mr. Stump’s friends and family to screen the list. That responsibility rested on the ACC, and it chose not to do so. We asked for public records that we said we’d publish, and we published them.
  • Nonetheless, we instructed our attorney, Dan Barr, to ask the ACC’s outside attorney, David Cantelme, to give us the names of any family members of friends with whom Mr. Stump had strictly personal business. Mr. Barr did so in a conversation with Mr. Cantelme, who said he would ask Mr. Stump. As of this writing, we are still awaiting a response. However, the offer stands to give us those names and numbers so we can review, evaluate and act on them.
  • The evaluating step is important because Mr. Stump has strained credulity by claiming that he needed over 70 text messages with dark money electoral group director, Scot Mussi, to arrange a trip to the symphony.
  • Mr. Stump might be asserting that the Checks and Balances Project is “left wing,” but the Commissioner can take comfort in knowing that a growing roster of Democratic officials (here, here and here) also dislike the inconvenient questions asked of them.

Free the Text Messages Content!

Probably the most important fact is that all of this back-and-forth is unnecessary, including the Commission’s hiring of an outside, taxpayer-funded attorney, David Cantelme; and an outside PR firm (we are investigating the hiring of these outside firms and their costs to Arizonans).

This is a straightforward matter with a straightforward resolution. The Commission already has the subpoena power to ask Verizon to provide the text messages that we are told don’t exist. In fact, in all likelihood, they do. With literally a phone call and the strike of a “send” button, the ACC could have the list of text messages and provide them to us.

Finally, I would like to thank all the citizens who are stepping forward to help us identify the unknown parties with whom Commissioner Stump had been exchanging text messages. More about that soon.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump ContactsToday, we publish the entire, 240 page log of Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages in a searchable format. We are also looking for the public’s help in identifying senders or receivers of text messages who we could not identify.

Further analysis of the text message logs of Arizona Corporation Commission’s Bob Stump provides new insights into the pattern of contacts by the former chairman.  Click here to access all the names we’ve tentatively identified to date and their number of texts.  Click here to find the entire searchable log.

We converted the text message log, provided by the Commission in response to our March 11 records request, into an Excel Spreadsheet. We then searched open source records including Google, LexisNexis, and Spokeo to determine the owners of phone numbers with whom Stump exchanged text messages.

New analysis has yielded some striking insights that we list below.

We could not identify many numbers. If you recognize any we have not identified, please send us your findings to: capturedregulator@checksandbalancesproject.org. We protect the identity of sources.

Last August’s Primary Election

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

In the months leading up to Arizona’s primary election on August 26, 2014, in which two sets of Republican candidates were pitted against each other – one pro-rooftop solar, the other pro-utility – our initial investigation showed indications that Stump was in extensive contact with many players in the dark money election scheme that helped elect the pro-Arizona Public Service candidates.

The pattern of those text messages suggest Stump not only knew, but also raises the question of whether he could have been coordinating the election of winning GOP candidates (now commissioners) Doug Little and Tom Foresee with APS’ Barbara Lockwood, and Scot Mussi, the head of the dark money electoral group, Arizona Free Enterprise Club. Arizona Public Service (APS) is widely believed to have funded much of the dark money election scheme.

Enter Sean Noble

Stump contacted Koch Industries operative Sean Noble in a concentrated period weeks before the Republican candidate selection

A new examination of the text logs shows that then-Chairman Stump first reached out to Sean Noble, executive director and president of American Encore, a 501(c) 4 nonprofit reported to be a conduit for the Koch Brothers donor network, on July 17. They corresponded regularly through 18 texts in the next eight days then stopped. This period was five weeks before Arizona’s primary to select Republican candidates for the Commission. At no other time from May 1, 2014, through March 11, 2015, did Stump and Noble text each other, according to the log.

Full Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Noble, Mussi messages overlap; more extensive texting with dark money electoral group

The text messages with Noble overlap the time period during which Chairman Stump was texting with Scot Mussi, president and sole board member, of the Arizona for Free Enterprise Club. Checks and Balances Project had previously reported that Mussi and Stump exchanged 46 texts. Our recount shows the prior number was conservative. The actual number is higher: 73.

Full Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Messages with APS’s Lockwood relegated to primary election season

Four days before Stump first texted Sean Noble, he reached out to APS’s  general manager of regulatory affairs and compliance Barbara Lockwood on July 13, 2014. Over the next 15 days, until July 31, the Chairman and Lockwood would swap 44 texts, then stop for nearly two months.

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Something seems to have happened during the final two weeks of July. Stump was texting Noble, whom he stopped on July 24; Mussi, whose last text was on July 26; and candidate, now Commissioner Tom Forese, with whom he stopped texting on July 26.

 

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Lon Huber Texts

1,806 texts exchanged with Lon Huber, consultant to AZ Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO).  

The mission of RUCO  is to serve Arizona’s Residential Utility. Essentially, it is supposed to be the advocate for Arizona consumers, who, it should be noted, overwhelmingly want access to low-cost rooftop solar. One of the most  frequent text contacts for Stump on his taxpayer-reimbursed phone was a key RUCO consultant, Lon Huber. The logs show that Stump and Huber exchanged 1,806 text messages – an average of over five a day over the 11 month period the records cover. Huber debated solar industry attorney Court Rich at Solar Summit 2014, arguing for the benefits of government-supported monopoly untilities competing in the low-cost rooftop solar market against private enterprise.

Conclusion

The full text logs and the analysis provided here provide a thicker cast of Stump’s text contacts. They also show an even less flattering set of facts than the contacts reported to date for an elected body supposed to be neutrally overseeing large parts of the Arizona economy on behalf of its citizens.

When Stump’s text messages are finally released and if suspicions of electioneering turn out to be correct, it’s not just Bob Stump who could potentially be at fault. It’s also commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little – perhaps others on the Commission and staff, as well.

This is very likely why this same set of players at the ACC now asserts that it should control the discovery and release of the text messages that it very clearly doesn’t want the public to see. The fact remains that the Commission already has the subpoena power to order Verizon to release the text message content immediately. The messages are, literally, a phone call away.

The Arizona Corporation Commission’s gamesmanship from last week continues to suggest a deep-seated fear of public access to public records.

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.

 

What is in Commissioner Stump’s text messages?

stump deadline

Checks and Balances Sends Final Demand Letter to Arizona Corporation Commission for Commissioner Stump’s Phone

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Watchdog Seeks Commissioner Bob Stump’s Phone to Access Content of His Text Messages

June 19, 2015 – Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) announced today that it has sent a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission to demand immediate access to Commissioner Bob Stump’s phone and other devices that use the (602) 647-0433 phone number. If the Commission refuses to comply by 5:00 p.m. MT on June 26, 2015, C&BP will file a special action in Maricopa County Superior Court to obtain access to the phone and public records that remain on them.

“Commissioner Stump’s text message logs and emails appear to show that he was conducting public business on his private Verizon account to promote the interests of monopoly utilities,” said Scott Peterson, executive director of C&BP. “Now the Commission has hired a high-priced attorney at public expense to assert that the messages are gone. Yet readily available technology or the Commission’s own subpoena powers put these messages within easy reach. Let’s be clear. The Commission can get these messages. They just don’t want anyone to see them.

“We submitted our original records request to Commissioner Stump on March 11, 2015,” Peterson continued. “What are his text messages about that the Commission so desperately wants to protect them?”

Says C&BP attorney Dan Barr: “It would have been far easier for Commissioner Stump to comply with his legal duties under the Public Records Law had he used his Corporation Commission email account instead of texting on his private phone and then apparently deleting many of those texts soon afterward. Nevertheless, those text messages are still on Commissioner Stump’s phone. The Corporation Commission has two choices and only two choices. Either it will comply with the Public Records Law and give us access to Commissioner Stump’s phone so we can extract those texts that are public records from it or we will get a court to order them to do so.”

About Checks & Balances Project

A clean-energy public watchdog blog, C&BP asks questions of government officials, corporate managers and lobbyists who stand in the way of the growth of clean energy. Funding for C&BP comes from clean energy philanthropies and donors.

 

Contact:  Scott Peterson at scott@checksandbalancesproject.org

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Susan Bitter Smith Could Provide Bob Stump’s Text Message Content – If She Wants To

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Susan Bitter Smith Could Provide Bob Stump’s Text Message Content – If She Wants To

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Susan Bitter Smith

The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) has firmly stated that the content of Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages are no longer available. In fact, there are ways the commission can obtain text message content, detailed below.

These are public records because they are related to Stump’s job as Corporation Commissioner, a fact that is further confirmed by Stump submitting his personal Verizon account invoices for payment by Arizona taxpayers. The ACC is resisting calls to provide these records. Why? Text logs suggest that former chairman Bob Stump may have been carrying out public business through text messages on his personal phone and does not want the public to see what he was communicating.

Issue a Subpoena

The Arizona constitution empowers the ACC to “act in a Judicial capacity sitting as a tribunal.” Chairman Susan Bitter Smith, like all of the members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, has subpoena power. If she really wanted to know if former Chairman Stump was engaged in illegal electioneering prior to the August 26, 2015, GOP primary election, she could subpoena the text message content from Verizon and read what Stump was texting.

To learn if Verizon provides text message content, I called customer service at (800) 922-0204 on two separate occasions, most recently on May 29, 2015, and asked to speak to a manager or senior customer service representative.   Here’s the essence of the conversations:

Q:  If Verizon is presented with a subpoena, will it provide text message content?

A:  Yes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a criminal or civil case, if Verizon is presented with a subpoena, we will provide text message content.

I was also given the phone number of the Verizon legal department.

Scrape His Phones 

Cellebrite

CNN/Money

Another way for Chairman Bitter Smith to have the truth come out or restore Commissioner Stump’s credibility would be to immediately create a copy of the content of his phone with Oxygen Forensic Suite 2015 7.3, Cellbrite UFED Pro Series, or other products used by investigators worldwide, and release a copy of the results.

Unless Commissioner Stump has destroyed his phone, removed the SIM (data) card, purposefully deleted texts, or updated the operating system software, the text message content and Gmails that we have requested under the Arizona records act still reside on his phone.

We are not interested in text message content or Gmails between Stump and his family and friends. However, as we have detailed previously, information extracted from Stump’s text message logs raise questions about what he was doing in the months leading up to the primary election:

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Susan Bitter Smith Could Provide Bob Stump’s Text Message Content – If She Wants To

Preserve Stump’s Phone

On June 2, our attorney sent a letter to the ACC’s outside counsel, David Cantelme, asking that Commissioner Stump:

  • Not delete any texts, photos, messages or any data in general.
  • Not remove the battery, sim or data cards.
  • Not update the software on the phone. This includes the operating system or applications.
  • Keep the phone in a dry area away from extreme temperatures and direct sunlight.
  • To the extent possible, discontinue use of the cell phone, by placing it in airplane mode or in a Faraday bag.

That should not be a problem. After all, the ACC has issued the commissioner another, official T-Mobile phone – which he rarely uses.

Now Chairman Bitter Smith, up to you.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?

Checks and Balances Project did something yesterday we haven’t done before: we requested records from a well-known consumer protection nonprofit. In a letter to California’s The Utilities Reform Network (TURN), we asked the organization to voluntarily provide communications records with Mike Florio, a public utility commissioner under fire for ethical misconduct who had been its employee for decades.

TURN is the leading California consumer advocacy organization that monitors utilities. On its website, TURN declares: “We Hold Utility Corporations Accountable By Demanding Fair Rates, Cleaner Energy And Strong Consumer Protection.” Its tagline is even more concise: “Lower bills, livable planet.”

To its credit, TURN went to court to force the release of emails between the CPUC and PG&E, the state’s biggest utility. The 65,000+ emails that were ultimately released show a pattern of coziness and possibly illegal behavior that then-CPUC President Mike Peevey had with utility executives. Peevey was not reappointed for a third term in part because TURN repeatedly excoriated Peevy. You can read some of the searing news coverage here, here, and here.

In fact, our analysis of media coverage since January, 2011, found 20 unique, negative quotes from TURN about Peevey, including five calls for his resignation.

Commissioner Florio

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?

Commissioner Mike Florio

Mike Florio was a top lawyer at TURN for 33 years before being appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the CPUC in January 2011. Consumer advocacy and reformers rejoiced when he was chosen and California’s utilities were concerned. But the very emails that TURN went to court to have released have led to a series of revelations about Florio, including a federal grand jury investigation.

TURN, however, has been notably muted about its former star attorney. In fact, in our media analysis, we were able to find only four unique comments by TURN, all moderate and forgiving in tone, about the ethical challenges and possibly illegal behavior of Commissioner Florio.

“Foolish Not Captured”

During a research trip to California for our Captured Regulators Initiative, TURN Executive Director Mark Toney was kind enough to meet with me. We talked about the challenges faced by Commissioner Florio. Mr. Toney said “there is a difference between being foolish and being captured.”

This is a curious position for a reform group that was so aggressive with one commissioner, but not another. It leads to an important question: Is TURN’s personal relationship with Florio more important than consumer protection?

Florio’s History with Turn

Mike Florio volunteered with TURN right after graduating from New York University law school in 1979 and was its first staff attorney. He worked there for 33 years, becoming a widely respected expert in utility issues, before joining the commission where his term runs through 2016.

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?“Consumers in California now have a CPUC Commissioner they can depend on,” said Toney when Florio was appointed. TURN spokeswoman Mindy Spatt, quoted in Global Power Report on Feb. 3, 2011, said, referencing the San Bruno pipeline explosion, “There is obvious need for a commissioner who will stand up to PG&E, demand answers and hold them accountable, and Mike can serve that role.”

Questionable Conduct Begins Early

But once he joined the CPUC, things seemed to change. Florio was assigned by then-President Peevy to oversee an investigation into the natural gas pipeline disaster in Sept. 2010 in San Bruno, California, that destroyed 38 homes and resulted in eight deaths. In 2012, a state investigation revealed that PG&E had diverted more than $100 million in gas safety and operations money collected from consumers and spent it for executive bonuses and other purposes.

In 2014 and early 2015, emails released by PG&E began to reveal disturbing behavior between former Chairman Peevy and Commissioner Florio with the utility.

Judge Shopping:

  • Florio intervened to help PG&E get the judge it wanted to hear a $1.3 billion rate-setting case to pay for safety measures after the San Bruno disaster. When an administrative law judge was assigned that was not to PG&E’s liking, Florio wrote to PG&E regulatory executive Brian Cherry, “I’m horrified!” and “I’ll do what I can” to reassign the judge the utility wanted to avoid.
  • Several of the emails released demonstrate a direct line of communications and appearance of cooperation between Florio and Cherry. The PG&E lobbyist was fired following the release of emails. PG&E was later fined $1.05 million for judge-shopping.
  • In April 2014, PG&E was indicted by the federal government for alleged criminal violations. In Sept. 2014, CPUC levied a $1.4 billion fine against PG&E for safety violations.

In Sept., 2014, TURN’s Executive Director Mark Toney declared:  “We are very disappointed” in Florio’s involvement.  “We very much hope this is a one-time incident that never happens again.”

One month later, Florio recused himself from PG&E rate cases.  In December, San Bruno’s City Manager called for his resignation.

Back Channel Communications with PG&E

  • In February 2015, a new email revealed that Florio circumvented rules in 2012 that requires commissioners to meet with all parties of a rate case when PG&E’s Cherry asked to meet with him. Commissioner Florio scheduled their meeting just three days before the corresponding CPUC hearing, leaving no time for the cities of San Bruno, San Francisco, or TURN to respond. At the hearing, Florio proposed a last-minute change in PG&E’s favor that resulted in a $130 million Christmas 2012 gift for the utility.
  • Florio claimed he was unaware of CPUC rules against back-channel communications with utilities, despite his years as a supervising attorney for TURN.
  • “Amazing how I’ve become ‘an apologist for PG&E’ in just three short years, isn’t it?” Florio wrote to PG&E’s Cherry.

“It seems like Florio has forgotten any code of ethics now that he’s a commissioner,” a former CPUC administrative law judge, who asked not to be identified, told me in an interview. “Florio’s personality is to help utilities. But giving the utility the last word is dishonest.”

Back Channel Communications with SoCal Edison

  • Then in March 2015, a new email was revealed that had been uncovered by former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre, who is suing the CPUC over San Onofre nuclear power plant shutdown costs. It told of how Commissioner Florio held a previously secret, regular 1:30 Wednesday call with the management of Southern California Edison, majority owner of the San Onofre plant.
  • In another, Florio discussed a rate-setting case with Edison Vice President Akbar Jazayeri , when the executive asked if their interaction was allowed under rules that prohibited ex parte communications. “Thank you Akbar – I was just trying to follow through on the training you’ve given me over the years!!” Florio insisted to him it wasn’t a problem.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said Florio should know better than to communicate in private with utility officials. He has called for him to recuse himself from rate cases involving SoCal Edison.

Efforts to Keep Conceal Back Channel Communications With Edison

  • As part of the San Onofre nuclear power plant shutdown negotiations, Florio was present at two previously secret discussions during which former President Peevy lobbied Edison executives to contribute $25 million toward greenhouse gas research at UCLA, where Peevy had been named to an advisory board.
  • In a sworn affidavit released this month, Edison Energy President Ron Litzinger said he called Florio after the first meeting to ask whether the meetings should be made public. Florio told Litzinger to keep meetings the meetings secret, “saying he was passing along instructions from [former President] Peevy’s chief of staff.”

On May 25, Commissioner Florio was removed from as the supervising commissioner from the San Onofre investigation.

TURN Went After One Commissioner, Excuses Another

TURN’s stated mission is to protect consumers. When it comes to a member of California’s powerful public utility commission, utility misconduct is incompatible with consumer protection. That’s why we are surprised at TURN’s light treatment of Commissioner Florio’s pattern of ethical lapses.

It is also why we invite TURN to voluntarily release all of its email and text messages with Florio since he took office.

We recognize that there is no legal requirement for TURN to provide the communications we have requested. However, should it become necessary, we intend to use the California Public Records Act force their release.

– – – 

TURN Executive Director responded to my letter with the following email on June 4, 2015: 

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.

Nevada Minority Floor Leader’s Bill Appears to Borrow Content from Arizona’s Pinnacle West Legislation

Nevada Minority Floor Leader’s Bill Appears to Borrow Content from Arizona’s Pinnacle West LegislationAs the Nevada legislative session rolls toward its close on June 1, questions are being raised about the origins of AB330, a bill sponsored by Minority Floor Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-1). Though currently tabled, the key language of the legislation significantly overlaps a bill passed by the Arizona legislature that, according to our sources, was authored by Pinnacle West, the holding company of the utility Arizona Public Service.

Like the similar Pinnacle West bill that was passed on March 30, 2015, Kirkpatrick’s bill, that was introduced on March 16, would require would impose extensive equipment registration requirements on the rooftop solar industry, something that many say would give an advantage to in-state utilities that are fighting the popular, fast-growing solar industry in Nevada.

While the Assemblywoman is, of course, free to author any bill she chooses, her original bill contained much of the same content as the Arizona legislation. For example:

Nevada Minority Floor Leader’s Bill Appears to Borrow Content from Arizona’s Pinnacle West Legislation

 

The Pinnacle West bill has the same provisions:

Nevada Minority Floor Leader’s Bill Appears to Borrow Content from Arizona’s Pinnacle West Legislation

This raises several questions. First and foremost: Why is this powerful Nevada Democrat pushing legislation that seems to have its origins with an out-of-state utility’s lobbying staff?

Questions for Kirkpatrick

We emailed and called Assemblywoman Kirkpatrick’s office with the following questions, on which we are awaiting comment.

  • What public problem is this bill intended to address?
  • What evidence exists of the problem?
  • How do you explain the overlap in language between your bill and the Pinnacle West bill?
  • Who first approached you about sponsoring this bill?
  • Who provided the original draft?
  • Which lobbyists working in favor of your bill have you worked with? Who or what companies were they representing?
  • Do any of these lobbyists represent companies or interests that have provided contributions, gifts or perks of any sort to you or your staff?

Rooftop solar is booming in Arizona and Nevada, yet curious moves are underway in those states and others to inhibit a technology that the overwhelming majority of Americans say they want. Perhaps we don’t understand the Assemblywoman’s motivation. We look forward to hearing from her.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.

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