Outside groups spending on Corporation Commission race

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

It is a state board that sets the rates for power, water and other utilities, but most residents have little idea who the Arizona Corporation Commission members are, much less who is running for the three seats up for election this fall.

"The Corporation Commission is the most influential body in Arizona that nobody knows anything about," said Dan Barr, a Phoenix attorney who represents the Checks and Balances Project, which works to create transparency in how utilities are regulated around the country.

One of the targets of the Checks and Balances Project is Bob Stump, whose cell phone appeared to show dozens of communications with an official from the state's largest utility, Arizona Public Service.

APS was accused of spending more than $3 million to help elect two candidates to the Commission during the 2014 election cycle. The utility has not admitted to spending any money on that election, but as recently as today, officials refused to answer the question of whether and how much it spent.

The FBI is investigating possible dealings between APS and a former Commission member.

This election cycle, it's the solar industry that is spending money.

The group, Save Our AZ Solar, has disclosed that it is spending money to support candidates that support alternative energy policies. The group's chairperson, former Commission member Kris Mayes, defends the move as legal and transparent.

"Obviously, we are spending on candidates, but we are doing it openly," Mayes said. "We're doing it honestly. And we're also not regulated. We're not a utility."

She and other solar supporters argue that this year's election will serve as a referendum of a sort on the future of solar in Arizona. They contend that big utilities have worked to influence Commission members to vote on measures that would make rooftop solar less affordable.

APS issued a statement to CBS 5 Investigates that reads in part, "It is disingenuous for anyone to assert that APS, with more than 1,000 megawatts of solar generation and more than $1 billion invested in solar energy, is anti-solar. Our goal is to preserve Arizona's solar leadership the right way, without driving rates up for customers who do not have rooftop solar."

You can find a list of the candidates running for three open seats here.

Copyright 2016 KPHO (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards , two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. Last fall, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle, in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is a graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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