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Phoenix utility pumps money into attorney general campaign
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Phoenix utility pumps money into attorney general campaign

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PHOENIX — The parent company of the state’s largest electric utility is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars through a third party to ensure that Republican Mark Brnovich becomes the next state attorney general.

Records obtained by Capitol Media Services show Pinnacle West Capital Corp. has given $425,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association. That amounts to more than one dollar of every six of the $2.5 million association has amassed so far in Arizona for ads critical of Democrat Felecia Rotellini.

Pinnacle West spokesman Alan Bunnell would not comment on why the corporation is spending that kind of money on the race for who becomes the state’s top law enforcement official.

Instead, he said that Pinnacle West and Arizona Public Service “support causes of either party that are pro-business.” And Bunnell said the company acts to ensure there is “safe, reliable and affordable energy.”

But it also comes as APS and other utilities are fighting the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency for what they see as unnecessary and onerous pollution regulations for coal-fired power plants that will require larger reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from Arizona facilities than other states.

And Brnovich has said as AG he would join other states “in challenging the legality of these federal regulations if they are not promptly withdrawn or significantly revised to reflect the concerns of stakeholders.”

Brnovich spokesman Matthew Benson referred questions about the propriety of a regulated utility trying to influence who is elected the next chief law enforcement officer of the state.

“You’d have to ask Pinnacle West about the donation decisions they have,” he said. But Benson, in language echoing what came from Bunnell, said it’s likely the company sees it as in the company’s interest.

“If Pinnacle West has chosen to weigh in on his behalf in this race, it may be because the utility views him as the more credible candidate when it comes to pushing back against the Obama administration and fighting overregulation that threatens Arizona’s ability to produce the clean, cost-effective energy Arizona families and businesses need,” Benson said.

But Rotellini pointed out she actually had gone on record in August as opposing the new EPA rules, even testifying before a legislative committee, before Brnovich sent his own letter threatening to sue the federal agency.

Rotellini said she has no answers about why APS and its parent have opted to back her foe. But that did not stop her from blasting the company for its decision.

“It’s beyond disconcerting to see a regulated corporation, the state’s largest utility, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to a dark-money group to fund attack ads full of lies,” she charged.

Strictly speaking, RAGA is not a “dark money” group. Unlike others involved in trying to influence this year’s election, it does provide a list of donors.

But it’s not that simple, as the association does take cash from other groups that do not make such disclosures.

That includes the American Future Fund, which gave it $650,000 earlier this year, meaning that the ultimate source of all of its dollars remains secret.

Other reports, however, show that the American Future Foundation, in turn, received much of its funding, at least in the 2012 election cycle, from Center to Protect Patient Rights, a group founded by Sean Noble that has now morphed into American Encore.

And Noble, who works for Brnovich, has previously been a consultant for APS.

Benson did not dispute that Rotellini was first in blasting the EPA. But he said the timing apparently is irrelevant to APS.

“The question is which of these two candidates has credibility that they will actually fight back against the Obama administration,” he said. “Talk is cheap.”

This isn’t the first time APS has been has been alleged to have put money into a political campaign. During the Republican primary, Vernon Parker and Lucy Mason charged the utility was behind the hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into commercials against them by Save Our Future Now. The organization, which refuses to disclose its donors, also spent more than $425,000 on behalf of Doug Little and Tom Forese, who have advanced to the primary.

And Save Our Future Now already has reported spending $1.3 million in commercials attacking Democrat Sandra Kennedy.

On Tuesday, Bunnell again refused to confirm or deny the involvement of either APS or its parent in the Corporation Commission race. Instead, he repeated his statement about the interest in supporting candidates that the company believes will support its energy policies.

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