Top Video Headline, August 17, 2015

Video from 12 News (8/14/15).

Top Headlines, August 17, 2015

in the news

herald

Excerpt from The Sierra Vista Herald (8/13/15): “Utility regulator wants change in public records law”

State utility regulator Bob Burns wants lawmakers to tighten up the state’s Public Records Law, possibly setting up a “gatekeeper” who would have to approve — and could deny — requests.

Burns, a former state Senate president, said his concerns started with the ongoing battle for the text messages of fellow commissioner Bob Stump. The Checks and Balances Project is questioning a series of texts just ahead of the 2014 Republican primary.

Burns said that what already is known about the pattern of Stump’s tests “certainly looks a little bit strange” and may merit the kind of requests made of the Arizona Corporation Commission for the contents.

eagle

Excerpt from Arizona Eagletarian (8/14/15): “Does the Arizona Legislature DARE to attempt limiting Public Records access?”

Once looked to for sound reasoning in the ongoing saga of Trash Burner Bob Stump and his dubious (and clandestine) communications with Koch-addict Sean Noble, Arizona Public Service president Don Brandt and Brandt’s newest wholly-owned corporation commissioners Little and Forese — Bob Burns now says it’s time to shut down public records access for pains in the government bee-hind like the Checks and Balances Project.

azcentral

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/15/15): “Elected official: Keep the sunlight out” 

As reported last week in the Arizona Capitol Times, Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns is exasperated after fighting for three months with a Washington, D.C.-based open government group seeking another commissioner’s telephone text messages.

So, rather than just give the Checks and Balances Project what it wants, Burns proposes the opposite approach: Require the courts to approve public-records requests.

In other words, he wants to require search warrants.

Burns should step back, take a deep breath and consider that worthy adage warning that “hard cases make bad law.”

azcentral

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/15/15): “New Arizona utility regulators to face first APS case on solar rates”

The changes would affect only new solar customers, not those who installed solar before the fees were approved in 2013 or those who pay the 70-cent fee today. They also would not affect solar water heating, only solar electric.

Controversy surrounding the issue increased dramatically last year when Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little won election backed by $3.2 million in advertising by independent political groups supporting them and opposing the other Republicans in the race.

Forese and Little’s Republican primary challengers were backed by the rooftop-solar industry.

APS has declined to answer repeated questions about whether it was funding those campaigns.

12news

Excerpt from 12 News (8/16/15): “Solar vote tests APS’ clout over regulators”

Almost two years ago, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a controversial plan by APS to raise rates on solar customers.

Since that vote in November 2013, the elected officials who regulate the state’s largest utility, and the utility itself, have come to be seen in a very different light:

* Utility monopoly APS as a political gorilla in Arizona with untold and undisclosed cash to spend to elect the five members of the commission that sets its rates — and ours.

* The all-Republican Corporation Commission as a captive of APS. One current Corporation Commissioner – Bob Stump — and a former Corporation Commissioner — Gary Pierce — are being investigated by Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office over allegations they got too cozy with APS.

Top Headline, August 14th, 2015

in the news

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/13/15): “How utterly fitting. Corporation Commissioner wants to limit public’s access to public’s business”

For months, the Checks and Balances Project has been trying to get a look at Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages sent on his commission-supplied phone during the 2014 campaign season. Specifically, it’s interested in what Stump was talking about in his multiple exchanges with an APS official, the head of a dark-money group believed to be tied to APS and a couple of commission candidates elected with the help of that dark-money group.

It would seem that Mr. Burns doesn’t think the public has any right to get a glimpse into just how cozy (or not) APS has become with the commission that supposedly regulates it.

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

No competitive bid process, no conflict vetting, association with checkered efforts – all at considerable expense to Arizona Taxpayers

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Barrett Marson

On June 19, the day that our attorney, Dan Barr, sent a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) demanding access to former Chairman Bob Stump’s cell phone, ACC Executive Director Jodi Jerich fired long-time Commission spokesperson Rebecca Wilder.

Rather than comply with our public records request and allow downloading of Stump’s text messages to determine whether not Stump had engaged in illegal electioneering, Stump and the Commission had decided to fight, at considerable expense to Arizona taxpayers

PR Consultant Barrett Marson Hired

Five days later, the ACC hired Barrett Marson to serve as the ACC’s PR consultant at $7,500 per month.

According to records obtained by the Checks and Balances Project show there was no competitive bid process to make sure taxpayers got the best deal on the contract. There is no indication of an effort to ensure Marson had no conflicts of interest. The expensive hiring of Marson raises questions about why he was selected.

Marson is a minor celebrity in Arizona GOP circles. Since October 2013, he has co-hosted “Copper Talk,” a political podcast series. His first interview was with former Arizona Treasurer, now Governor, Doug Ducey. Barrett is a former journalist and director of communications for the Arizona House of Representatives and Dept. of Corrections where, according to his website bio, he “attended four executions.”

Minutes before our deadline, the Commission’s outside counsel David Cantelme, hired at a rate of $300 an hour, let it be known that the Commission had changed tactics. Their new plan was to choose a retired judge and a state police forensic expert to download Stump’s phone, then decide whether any of the texts are public records. The plan backfired when both the state police and Phoenix police refused to get involved.

Meanwhile, Marson wasted little time, directing an elaborate diversionary campaign to take people’s eyes off the unfulfilled public records request.

Ties That Bind

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Robert Graham

It’s worth noting that Marson has past connections to Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s powerful chief of staff, Kirk Adams, through the dark money electoral nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership, where Marson was spokesman.

Graham, in the news last week for standing behind a county Republican Party executive who Donald Trump fired as his state director due to racist and religious slurs, was founding chairman of ARL and a director until becoming Arizona GOP chairman in February 2013. The Arizona GOP issued the infamous “Who Is Dan Barr?” attack video, and, according to Graham, created blog posts, a website, and a social media campaign attacking C&BP and defending Stump.

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Kirk Adams

Gov. Ducey’s Chief of Staff Kirk Adams was president of Americans for Responsible Leadership in 2012 and 2013. A former Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, where he worked with Marson, he also founded Prosper Inc., a 501c (4) non-profit that that received money from Arizona Public Service (APS) to fight net-metering.

The $1 Million California Fine

In October 2013, — while Graham, Adams, and Marson were all associates – the California Fair Political Practices Commission and California Attorney General announced a fine of $1 million – the largest in California history – for an $11 million campaign finance money-laundering violation against Americans for Responsible Leadership and Center to Protect Patient Rights. The illegal contribution was to the Small Business Action Committee. The Center was a front group run by Sean Noble, with whom Stump texted in a burst prior to the August 26, 2014 GOP primary. Almost all of the money has been traced to billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch.

Said Marson, called a “dark-money spinmeister”at the time by the Arizona Republic, “There was no intent to skirt or deceive California officials.”

Kirk Adams called the largest campaign money-laundering violation in California history “a big old nothing-burger.”

ACC is Still Accountable to Arizonans

Marson might have been the best-qualified, lowest-cost service provider the Commission could have hired. But without a competitive bid process and conflict vetting, we are left with only the questions about why he was hired so quickly and with so little screen on his qualifications, pricing, and conflicts.

If Commissioner Stump would have simply fulfilled his legal responsibility to provide the text message records in which he conducted public business – or if Chairman Susan Bitter Smith would have investigated – Arizonans would have been saved tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary contractor expenses.

 

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.

Watchdog group narrows list of Stump text requests – Arizona Republic

in the news

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/7/15): “Watchdog group narrows list of Stump text requests”:

The updated request from Checks and Balances “identified the text messages it most wants to review. It includes phone numbers tied to current members of the commission and key figures who have worked with APS or “dark money” groups that have worked on behalf of the energy industry.

The Checks and Balances Project said Stump’s phone logs provided by the commission suggest he might have been helping coordinate political campaigns for Tom Forese and Doug Little, two Republicans elected last year to the commission.”

New York Regulator Zibelman Has More Questions to Answer about Conflicts of Interest

New York Regulator Zibelman Has More Questions to Answer about Conflicts of Interest

Audrey Zibelman

On Friday, July 31, we emailed a letter to New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) Chairman Audrey Zibelman, asking her a series of questions that revolve primarily around her relationship with Edward Krapels.

Mr. Krapels is the founder of Anbaric Microgrid, a company that has billions of dollars of contracts pending before the PSC. He was also Ms. Zibelman’s founding partner at Viridity Energy, a privately-held, Pennsylvania-based company.

Ms. Zibelman resigned as chief executive officer of Viridity after she was chosen PSC chair by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2013. However, according to Capital (now Politico), Viridity continued work on microgrid control panels for Anbaric. After questions were raised by a Newsday reporter in June, the website reference to the companies’ work together was eliminated, Zibelman cut all remaining ties with Viridity and abandoned her shares in the company.

Anbaric Projects

New York Regulator Zibelman Has More Questions to Answer about Conflicts of InterestIn February 2015, Zibelman met with Krapels about microgrids in New York state. Later, Ziebelman recused herself from a decision about a transmission line being developed by Anbaric, apparently seeking to avoid the appearance of conflict.

But Anbaric has two other, potentially lucrative projects pending before the PSC. So we asked Ms. Zibelman if she will recuse herself from all future decisions affecting Anbaric or any other company she is directly or indirectly affiliated with.

NY Code of Ethics

Because the New York Code of Ethics for public officers so clearly outlines the types of behavior and actions that can lead to improper conflicts, we sent our letter to the commissioner to ensure that she is upholding the highest standards of public integrity. The Code states:

“No officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties nor use such information to further his personal interests.”

“. . . state employees should not give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence them or be favored in the performance of official duties. Further, state employees should not pursue a course of conduct which could raise suspicion that they are engaged in acts that are a violation of trust.”

We also called upon Ms. Zibelman to disclose whether she received an ethics opinion from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and, if so, to release that opinion to the public.

Read the entire letter here.

We look forward to Chairman Zibelman’s response.

 

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.

Letter of Inquiry to PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman

July 31, 2015

 

Chairman Audrey Zibelman

New York State Public Service Commission

90 Church St

New York, NY 10007

Dear Ms. Zibelman:

My name is Scott Peterson, and I am the executive director of the Checks and Balances Project. We’re a pro-clean energy public watchdog blog that examines the influence of corporate management and lobbyists on government officials, think tanks, the media and others.

We’ve read in the online news publication, Capital, that you met in February with Edward Krapels, your former business partner at Viridity Energy, a company that you co-founded. Krapels is also the founder of Anbaric Microgrid, a company that has billions of dollars of contracts pending before the Public Service Commission.

I note that according to New York Code of Ethics for Public Officers:

“No officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties nor use such information to further his personal interests.”

After questions were raised by a Newsday reporter in June about Viridity’s business relationship with Anbaric, you reportedly cut all ties with Viridity and abandoned your shares in the company.

Although it was reported that you voluntarily recused yourself from a decision that could affect one of Anbaric’s projects earlier this year, you have voted on issues that involve the company, and you have yet to recuse yourself from future votes that can impact Anbaric.

Again, according to the New York Code of Ethics:

“. . . state employees should not give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence them or be favored in the performance of official duties. Further, state employees should not pursue a course of conduct which could raise suspicion that they are engaged in acts that are a violation of trust.”

With that in mind, I hope you are willing to answer a few questions that will bring some clarity and transparency to this situation:

What is the nature of your relationship with your former Viridity partner, Edward Krapels?

  1. Did you discuss Anbaric projects with Mr. Krapels that are pending before your commission?
  2. Will you commit to recusing yourself from any future decisions affecting Viridity, Anbaric or any other company you are directly or tangentially affiliated with?
  3. Was there an ethics opinion from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics prior to or at the time of your appointment as chairman of the New York Public Services Commission?
  4. If so, will you disclose it?

With recent revelations about utility commissions in other states facing ethical scrutiny, I believe that answering these questions will help to assure the public that all potential conflicts of interest have been appropriately addressed, as well as demonstrate that your commission is dedicated to upholding the highest standards of public integrity.

I look forward to your responses.

Sincerely,

 

Scott Peterson

Executive Director, Checks and Balances Project

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