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Arizona Corporation Commission In Legal Battle Over Dark Money

Attorneys for members of the Arizona Corporation Commission told a judge Tuesday he should block a bid by one of the panel's members to investigate a potential conflict of interest.

Commissioner Bob Burns is asking for an investigation into whether APS or it’s parent company Pinnacle West was the source of millions of dollars spent by "dark money'' groups to elect certain board members that later approved a $7-million-per-month rate hike. 

But lawyer David Cantelme, representing Commissioner Andy Tobin, told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley there is no legal procedure for commissioners to be disqualified from hearing issues, even if they involve parties that helped them get elected. Cantelme said it's legally irrelevant even if his client and the other commissioners voted on the APS increase, meaning there's no reason to allow Burns to investigate.

Bill Richards, representing Burns, responded that it does not matter whether there is no specific law or rule on disqualification of utility regulators.

He said what Burns wants to protect is the constitutional right of "due process'' of cases being decided by impartial judges. And in this case, Richards said, the commission was acting in a quasi-judicial capacity.

In 2016 APS openly spent more than $4 million to defeat Democratic candidates, helping to ensure the election of Tobin, Boyd Dunn — and Burns himself. But Burns, who reelection bid also was aided with money from solar interests, contends APS didn't really want him but feared him less than the Democrats.

That led to the 4-1 vote by the commission last year, with Burns in opposition, approving the rate-hike deal.

If Kiley decides there is a legal procedure and evidence of conflict of interest, the board’s approval of last year’s rate hike could be void. Kiley said he will rule as soon as he can.

Claire Caulfield first joined KJZZ as an intern in 2015 and now wakes up before the sun to produce and report for Morning Edition. She graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2017 and covered education policy in the nation's capital, election night in New York City and Native American issues for Cronkite News/ Arizona PBS. Before joining the Morning Edition team, she also worked on a documentary about rap music in the deep South and directed a film on drinking-water quality in the United States.On the weekends, you can find Claire flying her photography drone or working her way through the Pulitzer Prize book list.