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Dems In Arizona Corporation Commission Race Say Utility CEO Behind 'Culture Of Corruption'

Bill Mundell and Tom Chabin
(Photo by Will Stone - KJZZ)
Democratic Arizona Corporation Commission candidates Bill Mundell and Tom Chabin.

The two Democrats running for Arizona corporation commission say the head of the state’s largest utility has created a “culture of corruption” and the uility could be connected to "dark money" spending this election.

On Monday, commission candidates Bill Mundell and Tom Chabin fired back at the leadership of Arizona Public Service (APS) after learning its CEO Don Brandt sent an email to employees encouraging them to vote for the three Republicans in the race — Andy Tobin, Boyd Dunn and Bob Burns.

Brandt also wrote Mundell and Chabin could not be impartial if elected based on their criticism of the utility throughout the campaign.

“No other utility in the state of Arizona has made any endorsement of any candidates except for APS,” Chabin said. “We know that every time a customer paid their bill in the past, a little bit of that money went to dark money campaigns that elected commissioners two years ago.”

Brandt’s endorsement of Commissioner Burns is particularly surprising given that he has led the fight to force APS to disclose whether it was behind $3.2 million in dark money spending last election.

The utility’s alleged 2014 campaign spending isn’t the only source of concern for the two Democrats.

Recently, the political committee associated with the Arizona Association of Realtors launched a website and sent mailers endorsing the three Republicans. Campaign finance reports show the group has $1 million on hand to spend this cycle.

“Why would they want to participate in a commission race? The concern is disclosure. Did APS funnel or launder money to the realtors to spend in this race?,” Mundell said on Monday, adding that the realtors have not traditionally invested in commission races.

The solar industry has not sat on the sidelines of this year’s election, either.

National rooftop solar leasing company Solar City, which is typically at odds with APS over solar policies like net-metering, recently advised its customers to vote for Mundell, Chabin and Burns. The company has also indirectly funneled about $800,000 into this race through independent expenditures to support its three preferred candidates.

Mundell and Chabin have proposed a “code of ethics” based on the behavior that has occurred at the commission over the last two years.

APS does not discuss campaign finance questions.

The Arizona Association of Realtors has not yet commented on Mundell's statements.

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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.