PHOENIX — Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is quietly dropping the defamation lawsuit he filed last fall against backers of the Proposition 127 campaign and the California billionaire who financed it.
Brnovich filed suit against members of the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona committee and financier Tom Steyer over the content of TV commercials supporting the ballot measure. Those ads accused the attorney general of being “corrupt” and helping to “rig” the election.
Dennis Wilenchik, who represents Brnovich, told Capitol Media Services that even if he had won the lawsuit, the victory would have been hollow, at least financially.
He pointed out that commercials were running and the lawsuit was filed while Brnovich was seeking another four-year term. As it turned out, Brnovich won that race and got to keep his $90,000-a-year salary.
Voters also defeated Proposition 127, the proposal for which the ads accused Brnovich of using his position to defeat because he tweaked the explanation of the measure that voters saw on the ballot. The initiative would have mandated that most Arizona utilities generate at least half their energy from renewable sources, not including nuclear power, by 2030.
“So what is the point of this suit in terms of damages?” Wilenchik asked. “He proved his point. And his point was that the public went with him on both things.”
Wilenchik said he advised Brnovich the lawsuit should be “allowed to die a natural death.”
“And we move on,” he said.
The explanations of measures that appear on the ballot, while crafted by the secretary of state, are subject to review and alternations by the attorney general.
Proposition 127 would have overridden existing Arizona Corporation Commission policy which sets a 15 percent renewable energy goal by 2025. That policy can be amended based on changing factors, including cost; the initiative had no such escape clause.
Based on that, Brnovich added verbiage to the ballot language to say that the 50 percent mandate, if approved, would come “irrespective of cost to consumers.” That is precisely the argument utility Arizona Public Service had been making against the measure, and within days, APS was using Brnovich’s wording in its own commercials.
The TV ads financed by the pro-127 organization accused Brnovich of doing the company’s bidding, even superimposing APS logos on his suit jacket.
And the ad cited the more than $400,000 that Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent company of APS, gave to the Republican Attorneys General Association, a group that in turn spent more than $1.2 million to win Brnovich another term.
Wilenchik said Brnovich did not “manipulate” the ballot language “but rather exercised his duty as Arizona attorney general to assure that the descriptions of ballot measures are fair and accurate and provide necessary and appropriate information to the voting public.”
But it didn’t help Brnovich’s claim of neutrality that Eric Spencer, then the state elections director and a Republican like Brnovich, raised questions about the added language, calling it “eyebrow-raising.”
While Wilenchik said he believes the lawsuit had merit, court records show he never even served a copy of it on Steyer or the committee members.