Democrats running for the Arizona Corporation Commission get $6M boost from clean-energy groups
By: Ryan Randazzo Arizona Republic
Democratic groups want to see more solar energy and other forms of renewable energy in Arizona, and they are spending big in this year’s election to try to make it happen.
So far, outside groups have spent $6 million to help the three Democratic candidates running for seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates have seen only about $100,000 in spending from outside groups to help boost their campaigns.
The Corporation Commission sets utility rates and policies in Arizona. It currently includes four Republicans and one Democrat, but with three seats on the ballot this year the majority could shift, and clean-energy supporters see opportunity.
The money for Democrats has come from two sources: $2 million pledged by the Chispa Arizona PAC, an environmental justice and Latino group affiliated with the League of Conservation Voters; and $4 million from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s political action committee, according to records from the Secretary of State’s Office.
The outside money injected into the race can play a big role in getting the word out to voters, especially since each of the three Republicans and three Democrats are running on Clean Elections funding. That means the candidates themselves have had less than $300,000 to spend on the general election from the Citizens Clean Election Commission, plus what they collect in individual contributions.
Up until about 12 years ago, these races were sleepy affairs spending-wise. That changed when solar issues drew more interest — and money.
How big spending started in the races
In 2013, a group called TUSK, or Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, was launched to preserve net metering, a system where utilities credit customers for the solar power generated on their roof that is sent to the grid.
TUSK supported two Republican candidates for the commission in 2014, drawing the attention of Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s biggest utility. APS previously had declined to get involved with races for the commission because the eventual winners would oversee the utility as regulators.
But during that election cycle, a mysterious group calling itself “Save Our Future Now” emerged and mailed voters fliers that criticized one of those GOP candidates for previous troubles with the Small Business Administration and a failed congressional campaign.
While APS was broadly suspected to be behind that funding, it was another five years before the utility confirmed its parent company gave more than $10 millionthat year to groups involved in the election.
During the next election in 2016, APS openly supported commission candidates. APS spent more than $3 million supporting Republican candidates, while a rooftop solar company matched that spending for Democrats.
Earlier this year, the new CEO at APS told regulators the company no longer would fund election efforts for the commission.
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Bloomberg jumps into Arizona races
An even bigger money player has now come to the side of Democrats.
Bloomberg, who dropped out of the presidential race after spending a record $558 million on his campaign, is helping the Democratic commission candidates with mailers, television, radio and digital advertising.
His group supports a 100% clean energy plan.
Most of the spending has supported the Democrats, though some has funded opposition material against the Republicans.
Advertisements that benefit, or oppose, more than one candidate can be double counted, which is why the total amount spent benefiting or opposing candidates can pencil out to more than what actually is spent by the groups.
Chispa previously announced it would spend $2 million on the commission races supporting Democrats, as it has in the past. Secretary of State records show Chispa has spent more than $4 million in total this cycle including contributions to Legislative candidates.
The Arizona Republican Party has criticized the contributions from Bloomberg and liberal groups in light of the past controversies over APS supporting commission candidates.
Here’s how the spending is promoting, and attacking, candidates for the commission this year:
Democrat William Mundell
Democrat William “Bill” Mundell has benefited from nearly $3 million in independent expenditures to support him.
Mundell has not seen any opposition from independent groups, at least according to Secretary of State records.
Mundell previously served nine years on the commission and the state Legislature, as a Republican, and co-authored the renewable-energy standard that required utilities to get 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2025.
Democrat Anna Tovar
Democrat Anna Tovar is not far behind Mundell with about $2.7 million in support from the clean-energy groups, according to state records.
But Tovar has seen $25,000 spent against her by a group called Independent Voices Arizona. The ads criticize her spending as mayor of Tolleson.
Tovar is finishing her term as Tolleson mayor, and previously worked as a grade-school teacher in her hometown, and as a lawmaker.
Democrat Shea Stanfield
The clean-energy groups have given less support to Democrat Shea Stanfield, spending $959,000 to her benefit, and she’s seen no independent groups spend money opposing her yet, according to state filings.
Stanfield is a former Cave Creek Town Council member and retired teacher who taught various grades from kindergarten through high school in Scottsdale.
Republican Eric Sloan
Republican Eric Sloan has seen $352,000 spent to oppose his efforts to win a seat on the commission. Not only is Chispa targeting him, but so is a group called Arizonans for Energy Independence.
That group, whose source of funding is unclear, has taken out ads that highlight a state report about Sloan when he worked at the Arizona Department of Gaming. Sloan was investigated along with another employee for creating a hostile work environment and was fired shortly after that report was filed.
Sloan has benefited from $65,000 in spending to promote his candidacy from the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, state records show.
A variety of issues at the commission have caught the attention of the Home Builders group over the years, including policies regarding how much developers must pay to connect to utility infrastructure.
More recently, they have been involved with the partial moratorium on new construction in the Johnson Utilities water and wastewater territory in the far East Valley. Regulators imposed the moratorium, against the wishes of developers, because the utility didn’t have a sufficient water supply to meet the needs of its existing customers.
Free Enterprise Club has opposed increasing clean-energy requirements in the state.
Sloan lost a primary bid for the commission in 2018 and is running again. He runs Sloan Lyons public relations firm with his wife and previously held jobs at Arizona State University and the state Department of Gaming.
Republican Lea Márquez Peterson
Chispa and Bloomberg’s Beyond Carbon group have both contributed to the $144,000 spent in opposition to Republican Lea Márquez Peterson.
Márquez Peterson has seen about $50,000 in support from the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.
Márquez Peterson, who Gov. Doug Ducey appointed to the commission in 2019, now must win election to keep her seat. She served as director of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce until 2018, and quit to run a public affairs firm.
Republican Jim O’Connor
Chispa and Beyond Carbon both have contributed to the $144,000 spent in opposition to Republican Jim O’Connor as well.
O’Connor has gotten about $16,000 in help from the Free Enterprise Club.
O’Connor succeeded in a rare write-in campaign to land a spot on the general election ballot. The political newcomer lost a primary in 2018 running for the commission and didn’t plan to run again until the Republicans found themselves short of a full slate following signature challenges that kept other candidates off the ballot this year.