PHOENIX (AP) — The parent company of Arizona's largest electric utility has jumped into the state utility regulator election by creating a political committee and contributing $1 million to support three Republican Corporation Commission candidates.
Pinnacle West Capital Corp. issued a statement Monday saying the spending was needed to counter spending by a major solar company backing two candidates.
Pinnacle West owns Arizona Public Service Co., a regulated utility that serves 1.2 million residential and commercial customers in 11 of 15 Arizona counties.
Former Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes runs a group supported by SolarCity that is backing two candidates, GOP incumbent Bob Burns and Democrat Bill Mundell. She says APS has been working for at least a year to make solar unaffordable in Arizona so SolarCity decided to back candidates it believed were pro-solar.
APS wants the Corporation Commission to cut the amount residents with rooftop solar panels are paid for excess power.
In all, three Republicans and two Democrats are running for three seats. The Republicans are incumbents Burns and Andy Tobin and retired judge Boyd Dunn. The Democrats are Mundell and Tom Chabin.
APS is backing Burns, Tobin and Dunn. In an odd twist, Mayes' group is also backing Burns, along with Mundell.
Burns has been trying to force APS to disclose whether it covertly spent money in the 2014 Corporation Commission election.
The utility is widely believed to have spent $3.2 million but it has neither confirmed nor denied it spent the money to back Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little, who won.
Pinnacle West disclosed in public filings in August that it has received federal grand jury subpoenas seeking information on the 2014 commission and secretary of state elections.
The FBI has said it is "currently conducting a long-term investigation related to the financing of certain statewide elections in the 2014 election cycle," but it has not named APS.
Matthew Benson, spokesman for the group Pinnacle West created for this year's race, said the company had no intention of becoming involved in the race.
"But it's become clear that SolarCity and out-of-state special interests are spending millions of dollars to influence the Corporation Commission and install members that will do their bidding," Benson said. "We just want to make sure voters have both sides of the story."
Mayes said the spending, which comes just 15 days before Election Day, shows APS is worried. She said consumers should make no distinction between APS and Pinnacle West.
"I think that they're reacting to the fact that Arizonans prefer candidates for the Corporation Commission that will protect consumers and support solar," she said.
Chabin and Mundell issued a statement blasting the APS spending, saying CEO Don Brandt changed 100 years of company policy not to be involved in the election of its regulators.
"It doesn't surprise me that APS is spending millions to elect commissioners of their choice," Mundell said. "Don Brandt and APS don't want independent, objective commissioners."