Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Thursday, August 27, 2015

For ACC chair Bitter Smith, the plot thickens

As noted yesterday, local attorney Thomas Ryan apparently is still working on preparing his complaint to be filed with Attorney General Brnovich demanding that Susan Bitter Smith be ousted from office for violation of the strict conflict of interest statute governing Corporation Commissioners.

The only coverage on Wednesday (until Randazzo posted to azcentral at 11:41pm) was this blurb in the Yellow Sheet,
Commissioner Bitter Smith said attorney Tom Ryan’s forthcoming complaint and the conflict-of-interest allegations stemming from her work as a cable TV trade representative are part of “the intimidation strategy of Checks and Balances Project.” Ryan yesterday sent a litigation hold letter to Bitter Smith at her offices at the Corp Comm and Southwest Cable Communications Assn following a KJZZ report outlining Bitter Smith’s involvement as director of the cable group and a registered lobbyist for Cox.
But she told our reporter today she’s not going to succumb to Checks and Balances Project’s tactics: “Intimidation is not acceptable to elected officials, and I’m just going to continue to do my job.” She said she’s one of many commissioners both here and around the country under attack by the DC-based group. She also noted that the group is engaged in states that have active net metering discussions. “Every other commissioner here in Arizona has been an attackee of Checks and Balances. I was the last man standing, so to speak, so, apparently, it was my turn,” Bitter Smith said.
Ryan also sent a litigation hold letter to Technical Solutions, a government relations firm that lists Bitter Smith and her husband, Paul Smith, as principals. Bitter Smith said her firm is active with several employees, and it primarily does planning and zoning work at the city level. She said the firm has never done work with the Corp Comm. The secretary of state’s office lists Technical Solutions as inactive at the state level. The firm’s website says it “provides full service government affairs services including direct federal, state, and local lobbying activities with agencies ranging from the Federal Communications Commission, to the Arizona Corporation Commission, to the Arizona Legislature and Arizona municipalities.” The website also notes in Bitter Smith’s bio that she is a current commissioner.
It seems Bitter Smith is, for some odd reason, unfamiliar with the history of Ryan going after political corruption. Nobody in Arizona was publicly aware of the Checks and Balances Project until the watchdog group filed its public records request in March for Stump's clandestine communications with APS and others. How soon we (she) forget(s) that Ryan went after Tom Horne in 2014 when a whistleblower in the beleaguered former attorney general's office revealed illegal political campaign activity taking place on the taxpayers' dime.

That, of course, was not the first or only action Ryan has taken to dig out, for some sunlight disinfectant application, corruption in Arizona government. Who, besides politicians caught scurrying back to dark nooks and crannies when the light's switched on, cares where the sunlight's coming from anyway?

But I digress.

Isn't it quaint that Bitter Smith, who (in the audio with the KJZZ report linked in yesterday's blog post) admitted to, at minimum, recklessly and negligently violating A.R.S. § 40-101, just as dismissively claims she is not afraid of efforts to hold her accountable for her lawful duty to the citizens and ratepayers of Arizona?

Ryan told me he doesn't have a paying client for his work related to Bitter Smith's conflict of interest, and says he does not have any relationship with Checks and Balances Project. Randazzo reported,
Ryan said he is not associated with the solar industry and will file his complaint for the good of the state. The conflicts were brought to his attention by a KJZZ-FM reporter, he said.
The YS also said that Bitter Smith and fellow commissioner Bob Burns have added an item to today's Corp Comm staff meeting agenda about opening a docket item regarding regulated utilities spending on the 2016 election campaigns. Most intriguing about that report is the "railbird" who told YS that for the ACC to demand that APS and Tucson Electric Power (TEP) either disclose campaign spending or stay out of it altogether is,
One railbird said any effort by Bitter Smith and Burns will ensure that the only independent money in next year’s race will come from the solar industry, which is likely to use it to oust both of them. If the Corp Comm decides to formally tell the regulated utilities either to disclose their election spending or direct them not to spend, the source said the utilities are likely to stay out of the race altogether. And that also likely means the other business groups that they are involved in, like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and its dark-money Arizona Business Coalition, would also be sidelined. “You’re going to pass something to screw yourself over when you’re that vulnerable? I cannot wrap my head around how politically stupid this is," the source said.
Now, reporting what "railbirds" say is dubious at best from the start. But to give YS customers -- the lobbying industry in Arizona for the most part -- this encouragement or discouragement, depending on the reader's viewpoint, seems especially cheesy. Or, put another way, nobody should count their chickens related to 2016 Dark Money spending before they hatch.

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