After Year of Evasion on Record Requests, New Poll Shows a Majority Reject Stump’s Assertions
(Note: this story was updated on March 8, 2016.)
Lawyers for the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) tried today to have a judge help it to continue blocking public access to thousands of work-related text messages on Commissioner Bob Stump’s taxpayer-funded cell phone. Checks and Balances Project attorney Dan Barr argued that citizen access to public records is the law and must be enforced. Superior Court Judge Randall Warner’s ruling is expected soon.
Stump and Commission lawyers seem to have already lost in the court of public opinion, however, if a new poll by Pulse Opinion Research is any indication.
The survey of 500 likely Arizona voters March 1-3, 2016 found:
- An overwhelming 79% majority want Stump’s text messages released.
- A 56% majority says they do not believe Stump’s claims that the thousands of messages on his taxpayer-funded cell phone were of a personal nature.
- Stump has a negative approval rating of 40% disapprove vs. 28% approve.
- And, Stump’s conduct and the ACC staff’s actions to fend off inquiries into him seem to have hardened public views beyond Stump. Majorities of over 80% think it’s both wrong for utilities to spend money on behalf of Commissioners’ political campaigns, and that Commissioners have been somewhat or heavily influenced by the state’s utilities.
“For almost a year, Bob Stump has evaded basic public records requests. Instead, he and Commission staff have hired high-priced lawyers and PR people with no-bid contracts to fend off public accountability,” said Scott Peterson, Executive Director of the Checks and Balances Project, which commissioned the poll. “It’s pretty clear that Arizonans are unhappy with their conduct.”
Few people believe Stump’s assertion that thousands of text messages to APS lobbyists and campaign operatives were just for personal purposes – like arranging a date to the symphony.
“Unfortunately, the Commission is still fighting public access to public records in court – all at taxpayer expense. It’s unfortunate we have to go to court to get basic records from a taxpayer-funded cell phone, but Stump and the Commission’s senior staff have left us little choice,” said Peterson. “They don’t seem to understand that accountability and transparency are part of public governance.”
At the bottom of this post are responses to the five questions from the poll that C&BP is releasing today.
Context for the Hearing
Several parts of the events of the past year are relevant heading into tomorrow’s court hearing:
- Public records we obtained show that in the months leading up to Arizona’s primary election on August 26, 2014, Stump was in extensive contact with many players in the dark money election scheme that helped elect pro-Arizona Public Service candidates.
- Arizona Public Service is widely believed to have funded much of that effort.
- Text logs show that Commissioner Stump exchanged more than 20,000 text messages during a 10-month period. Many were with public officials, candidates for public office, or other people with business before the Commission.
- The metadata from the text messages suggests Stump not only was in contact with, but might also have illegally coordinated the 2014 primary election with APS’ Barbara Lockwood; Scot Mussi, the head of the dark money electoral group, Arizona Free Enterprise Club; and others.
- On July 22, 2015, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich seized Stump’s phone from a safe at the ACC. He claimed it was to further his investigation into a whistleblower’s charges against Stump and former Chairman Gary Pierce.
- Stump’s stories about the number and fate of his taxpayer-funded cell phones have changed and have been contradicted by ACC records.
- We are only seeking to review 3,598 work-related text messages from Mr. Stump’s iPhone3, which he claims to have thrown away.
- In December 2015, C&BP Attorney Dan Barr provided Judge David Cole a spreadsheet with the metadata – dates, times, durations, sender and receiver – of the 3,598 text messages in question.
- Acting in the role of “special master,” Judge Cole issued a two-paragraph report in late January 2016 that found, “none of the text messages” that the Attorney General’s investigators downloaded from Stump’s iPhone6 are “subject to production.”
- Unfortunately, the two-paragraph “report” didn’t address a number of issues, such as whether he reviewed any of the 3,598 text messages we are seeking.
- If Judge Cole did review the 3,598 text messages, his report does not say how many nor does it explain his reasoning for withholding any of them.
- We know Commissioner Stump texted with APS lobbyist Barbara Lockwood 56 times and 1,786 times with Lon Huber, a consultant to the state’s ratepayer advocate RUCO, among many other players in the scheme.
- Yet, according to Special Master Cole, he did not receive any of these messages to review.
- Cole told the Arizona Republic that the text messages he examined “either weren’t a match” to the more than 3,500 on our list “or they were with a person that was not one of the targets.”
“There are at least four big concerns about Judge Cole’s two-paragraph report. Did the Attorney General give him the roughly 3,500 text messages Stump exchanged with players in the dark money electoral scheme? If so, did Judge Cole review them? If he did review them, how could none of them pertain to public business? Why were the latest forensic technologies not used to retrieve the ‘deleted’ messages?” asked Peterson.
About Checks and Balances Project
Checks and Balances Project is a public watchdog blog that 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.
About Pulse Opinion Research
From the website: Pulse Opinion Research provides a methodologically proven survey platform for a host of clients, from individuals to special-interest groups. In fact, we provide the field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys.
Arizona Survey of 500 Likely Voters
Conducted March 1-3, 2016
By Pulse Opinion Research
Should utility companies be able to make campaign donations to commissioners who then decide how much profit that utility can make?
10% Not sure
Have Arizona Corporation Commissioners been heavily influenced by utilities, somewhat influenced by utilities, not very influenced by utilities or not at all influenced by utilities?
37% Heavily influenced by utilities
34% Somewhat influenced
7% Not very influenced
3% Not at all influenced
20% Not sure
Should Bob Stump be required to release text messages he exchanged on his taxpayer-funded cell phone about decisions that affected your electric bill?
12% Not sure
Bob Stump says messages to political operatives and utility lobbyists on his work-related cell phone were to arrange dates to the symphony and personal appointments. Do you believe him?
33% Not sure
Do you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove or strongly disapprove of the job that Bob Stump has been doing as Commissioner of the Arizona Corporation Commission?
3% Strongly approve
25% Somewhat approve
27% Somewhat disapprove
13% Strongly disapprove
32% Not sure
NOTE: Margin of Sampling Error, +/- 4.5 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence