|"The Attorney General
has failed the Arizona people," Woodward said Friday. "The
conflict-of-interest law that pertains to ACC commissioners is not contingent
on Burns' intent or excuses but whether or not he is conflicted. The record
clearly shows that Burns was a registered lobbyist for a telecommunications
group whose members have business before the ACC, and that Burns was registered
lobbyist both before and after his election. That makes him ineligible to hold
Friday, January 29, 2016
AG won't seek the removal of utility regulator Robert Burns
(Photo: Michael Schennum/The Republic)
· The Attorney General's Office will not seek the removal of regulator Robert Burns
· Like Susan Bitter Smith, who recently resigned, Burns was a lobbyist when he took office
· Burns lobbied for the telecommunications industry while campaigning for Corporation Commission
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich will not seek the removal of utility regulator Robert Burns for his lobbyist record.
Brnovic ended a months-long investigation with a letter sent to Burns on Friday.
"Our office does not have reason to believe that Commissioner Burns is usurping, intruding into, or unlawfully holding or exercising the office of Corporation Commissioner," Assistant Attorney General Brunn "Beau" Roysden wrote Friday.
Burns was elected in 2012 and in 2013 began his term on the five-member commission that regulates utilities.
Burns joined a telecommunications trade group, the Digital Arizona Council, to support a bill in the 2012 Legislature. He resigned from the Digital Arizona Council after he took office as a utility regulator in 2013, according to a letter he provided The Arizona Republic, but an affiliated group called Arizona Telecommunications and Information Council continued to list him as a lobbyist.
Late last year, when fellow commissioner Susan Bitter Smith was facing an attorney general's investigation into her work as a lobbyist for a cable television group, which is not regulated by the commission, commission officials realized Burns was still listed as a lobbyist and attempted to remove that designation.
But that didn't happen before the designation drew attention, and citizen activist Warren Woodward of Sedona filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office seeking Burns' removal from office for the conflict of interest.
"I felt like there really was no problem," Burns said Friday, adding the decision was a relief.
Woodward said that Burns was ineligible to take office because he didn't resign from the group until after taking office.
Michael Keeling, an attorney for the Arizona Telecommunications and Information Council, told the Arizona secretary of state in a Sept. 11 letter that Burns had asked to be removed as a lobbyist before he took office as a commissioner.
The Corporation Commission regulates gas, water, telecommunications and electrical utilities, in addition to other duties. A state law prevents commissioners from serving if they have an interest in entities regulated by the commission.
"Our investigation did not find evidence that Commissioner Burns had a relationship with ATIC that would disqualify him under (Arizona law)," Roysden wrote. "Merely being listed as an authorized lobbyist with the Secretary of State is insufficient to establish a violation (of the law)."
The letter sent to Burns and Woodward said that no evidence was found to contradict Burns' claim that his registration as a lobbyist for ATIC was "simply an administrative oversight."
It said Burns "at most" coordinated with ATIC during the 2012 legislative session and that ended with the session in May that year, well before he was elected to the commission.
"The Attorney General has failed the Arizona people," Woodward said Friday. "The conflict-of-interest law that pertains to ACC commissioners is not contingent on Burns' intent or excuses but whether or not he is conflicted. The record clearly shows that Burns was a registered lobbyist for a telecommunications group whose members have business before the ACC, and that Burns was registered lobbyist both before and after his election. That makes him ineligible to hold office."
The Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit seeking Bitter Smith's removal for her conflicts, and while she denied she had any conflicts, she resigned from office effective Jan. 4 because she said the case was a distraction.
In an unrelated matter Thursday, Burns filed a notice of investigation with Arizona Public Service Co., directing the electric utility to turn over all financial records of political contributions and lobbying.
APS is widely believed to have contributed to the $3.2 million that independent political groups spent in the 2014 election cycle to help Corporation Commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little win office.
Burns said that such spending, if done anonymously, can harm the reputation of the commissioners. APS rebuffed Burns in an previous request to disclose such spending. It is unclear if the utility will comply with his directive or whether he will need to take action in court over the matter.