More than two dozen local elected officials are facing personal fines for their official opposition to a 2018 ballot measure on renewable energy.
In virtually identical letters, Evan Daniels who heads the Government Accountability Unit of the attorney general’s office told the mayors, council members and supervisors that the resolutions they voted for expressing their opposition to Proposition 127 “constitutes a use of resources for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election.”
Daniels said that includes “supporting or opposing a ballot measure, question or proposition.” And he said that, according to the law, each violation carries a penalty of up to $5,000, plus reimbursement of misused funds.
But Daniels made each of the elected officials the identical offer: Pay a penalty of $225 to your local government and the AG’s office will consider the matter resolved.
He cautioned, though, that the law spells out that the cash has to come from the elected officials personally, with no city funds or insurance payments allowed.
And there was a warning: If he does not get a response by March 15, Daniels will pursue the issue further which may then result in additional penalties.
A similar letter went to Andy Tobin, a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, who had the agency’s communication department put out a statement in opposition to Proposition 127 on his office letterhead.
Tobin told Capitol Media Services he didn’t think at the time he was doing anything wrong.
He said he was simply responding to multiple requests from reporters about what he thought of the ballot measure which would have required commission-regulated utilities to generate half their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
That compares with the commission’s current goal of 15 percent by 2025.
Tobin already had crafted his own plan with an 80 percent renewable energy goal by 2050 but one that, unlike the ballot measure, allowed for the use of nuclear energy.
But Tobin said he intends to put the issue behind him.
“I believe that the attorney general was doing his job,” he said. “I’m going to apologize and write a check and beg everyone’s forgiveness.”
In his case, however, state law requires the money to be paid to the attorney general’s office rather than back to the commission.
The focus on the local officials stems from a complaint filed by Ken Clark, then a Democrat state representatives from Phoenix, saying that employees of Arizona Public Service had been “badgering” county and local officials and their staffs with requests to adopt formal resolutions opposing Proposition 127.
The watchdog Energy and Policy Institute, through public records requests, also said it found several instances where APS officials sought to make presentations on the initiative to local lawmakers.
Clark, in his complaint, argued that violated laws about influencing elections.
“Those laws were designed to keep special interests from usurping public dollars for a private purpose — that is, to amplify support or opposition to purely campaign matters,” he wrote.
The complaint against Tobin had a different genesis, having come from fellow commissioner Bob Burns.
He acknowledged that Tobin is allowed to speak with reporters and answer questions asked of him by reporters about energy issues. But Burns said that “is not the same as using the commission’s resources to basically take a position, and a public position.”
The initiative went down to defeat, with Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of APS, putting more than $32 million of its own cash into the effort.
Other utilities contributed much smaller amounts.
Virtually all of the close to $20 million spent to get the measure approved came from California billionaire Tom Steyer.