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Arizona Utility Regulator Billed As Telecom Lobbyist In Advertisements

Paid advertisements for Susan Bitter Smith in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 "Book of Lobbyists & Government Liaisons."
(Photo by Will Stone - KJZZ)
Paid advertisements for Susan Bitter Smith in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 "Book of Lobbyists & Government Liaisons."

Another piece of evidence has surfaced that calls into question an Arizona top regulator and her ties to the utilities she regulates.

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith has denied she lobbies for the telecommunications industry, but ads published in her name — while she was in office — indicate otherwise.

Every year the Arizona Capitol Times publishes its “Book of Lobbyists & Government Liaisons” that lists a variety of state lobbyists and their specialties. In the 2013, 2014 and 2015 editions, reviewed by KJZZ, paid advertisements for Bitter Smith describe her as lobbying on behalf of “cable television” and “telecommunications.”

Bitter Smith has steadfastly rejected that her roles as a registered lobbyist for Cox Communications and as the head of a cable industry trade group, Southwest Cable Communications Association, amount to a conflict of interest with her elected corporation commission position. While the commission regulates telecommunications, Bitter Smith contends her lobbying has focused solely on the side of Cox that provides cable, which is not overseen by the commission.

“I’m not an employee, never have been an employee, never have had any relationship with Cox directly,” Bitter Smith told KJZZ earlier this year. “I’ve always worked for the cable TV association.”

According to the Arizona Capitol Times advertising office, the clients submit the information for the ads that appear in the "Book of Lobbyists & Government Liaisons."

Local attorney Tom Ryan, who has filed a complaint with the state Attorney General seeking Bitter Smith’s removal, said this new information undermines her defense.

“It knocks it out of the ballpark. It’s her personal admission with her picture, her name and her approval,” Ryan said.

 Ryan said he plans to file a supplement to his complaint using these ads as further proof of her ties to telecom.

Calls to Bitter Smith and her attorney on Friday afternoon were not returned.

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Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.