Only a handful of lawmakers were invited and accepted an invitation to participate in a “historic trade mission” to Mexico sponsored by the Arizona Legislative Academy under the leadership of former Speaker of the House and current Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin.
From the very start, the mission was controversial.
The Arizona Legislature announced the trip in a press release dated August 17, 2017:
Bipartisan Delegation to Hold Press Conference Before Trip to Mexico
STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Representatives Tony Rivero (R-21) and Rosanna Gabaldón (D-2) will lead a bipartisan delegation to Mexico next week comprised of 26 members of the Arizona Legislature, as well as leaders from the business and academic communities.
Prior to their departure, the bipartisan delegation will hold a press conference on Monday, August 21 at 2:00 p.m. in House Hearing Room 5 to discuss their goals for the trip.
The policy and trade mission, funded by the Arizona State University Foundation, will strengthen legislative and economic relationships between Arizona and Mexico.
|Arizona State Legislature Attendees|
|JD Mesnard, Speaker of the House||John Allen, Majority Leader||Rebecca Rios, Minority Leader||Tony Rivero|
|Rosanna Gabaldon||Cesar Chavez||Drew John||Todd Cloddfelter|
|Becky Nutt||David Cook||Mark Cardenas||Noel Campbell|
|Ray Martinez||Don Shooter||Michelle Ugenti-Rita||Ben Toma|
|Macario Saldate||Diego Espinoza||Jamescita Peshlakai||Catherine Miranda|
|Jill Norgaard||Paul Mosley||Maria Syms||Rusty Bowers|
|David Stringer||Regina Cobb|
In response to an article about the trip entitled, Legislature Reports ASU Foundation Picks Up Tab For Mexico Junket, on September 20, Bret Hovell, Associate Vice President for the Arizona State University Office of Media Relations and Strategic Communications, contacted the Arizona Daily Independent (ADI) to correct the story. He advised that the “trip was not paid for by the Arizona State University Foundation.”
Hovell explained, “It was paid for by private donations for the non-partisan Arizona Legislative Academy, which is an educational course for newly-elected members of the state legislature. Others have gotten this wrong too, and I am talking with them about their corrections as well.”
“Though not required by law”
The ADI then redirected questions to Tobin as the head of the Arizona Legislative Academy. The original request was sent to Tobin at the Arizona Corporation Commission on September 22, 2017 at 9:10 a.m., yet it was Hovell who responded only after a second request was sent to Tobin on September 26. “Mr. Tobin asked me to help you with your request and I sincerely apologize that I have not gotten to it yet. Any delay in this matter is on me,” wrote Hovell in an email dated September 26, 2017.
Though not required by law, when donations to the Arizona Legislative Academy are received and processed, they are listed on the ALA site, as per the Academy’s commitment, when founded, to provide transparency about its supporters.
That information can be found here: https://publicservice.asu.edu/content/arizona-legislative-academy-0
When asked for details, Hovell responded later on September 27, “This is the information I am able to provide to you.”
Hovell then took exception to a claim made by Tim Steller in the Arizona Daily Star. Steller had claimed that Tobin was to secure “donations to cover his $100,000 salary” from the Academy. In an email dated September 28, Hovell wrote:
“Tobin never said he was going fundraise to pay his salary, and ASU never asked him to do that. There was and will be some effort to raise money for the operating costs. But ASU thinks this is an important program that will be beneficial to the public. The university is committed to it whether there’s a bunch of money raised or not.
The trip to Mexico, however, WAS funded entirely by donations. The donors are listed on the page I sent you.”
The page reads in part:
Donations to Arizona State University Foundation designated for the Arizona Legislative Academy.
We wish to acknowledge and thank the following individuals, foundations and companies for their generous support, either financially or through in-kind services, of the Arizona Legislative Academy’s work.
Arizona Chamber of Commerce
Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce
Ritoch-Powell & Associates
Tohono O’Odham Nation
Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
$1,001 – 5,000
Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry
CRP/WP Scottsdale Owner, LLC
Davis Design Solutions
J2 Engineering & Environmental Design, LLC
Nathan & Associates, Inc.
Sherpa Public Affairs, LLC
Sustainability Engineering Group, LLC
The Molera Alavarez Group, LLC
$5,001 – 10,000
And that is where the problem starts
Aside from the fact that it is unlikely that the dollar amounts identified on the list could cover the cost of the trip, Tobin, in his role as corporation commissioner, regulates the richest companies that belong to the chambers.
In fact, Jessica Pacheco with Arizona Public Service (APS) is the chair of the Arizona Chamber Foundation, which is “the leading resource for forward-thinking, expert research and analysis on the public policy issues that impact Arizona’s business environment, according the Foundation’s website.
Molly Greene, with the Salt River Project (SRP) serves as the chamber’s Chair of Water, Energy & Natural Resources Committee.
Karrin Taylor, who is associated with the Robson group, which controls Cornman Tweedy, which is in a fight with Arizona Water Company over control of water, is the chair of the chamber’s Federal Affairs and Arizona Strategies Committee. Robson family members, including Taylor, appear on the 2018 (4th Quarter) finance report for Commission Forese’s campaign. The Robson family, not including Taylor gave considerable money to the Boyd Dunn 2016 campaign.
The apparent conflicts are too many to outline here. Suffice to say from communications to water, the chamber’s membership, which funds the chambers’ work, are often at the mercy of the corporation commissioners.
In order to stem criticism and cover their collective asses, Arizona Corporation Commission chair Tom Forese created the Ethic Committee in August. At the first meeting, the Ethics Committee listened to a presentation from Naomi Davis. She told the Committee:
The “list of laws that carry ethical obligations is pretty extensive, but there is a particular list of subjects that is covered in the Public Service Orientation program that all public officers are required to participate in within six months of appointment or election.”
“That list is described in the introductory language of the session law that created the Public Service Orientation program, which is referred to as the state’s “ethics policy.” The list includes bribery, conflicts of interest, confidentiality, disclosure and reporting requirements, and others. These laws specify what kind of conduct is required, what kind of conduct is permissible, and what kind of conduct is prohibited. These laws serve a dual purpose. First they serve to illuminate the kind of conduct that the Legislature has determined is illegal, and serve to eliminate or reduce the appearance of impropriety by setting a standard of behavior required of public officers that places them above reproach in the public’s eye.”
One freshman lawmaker was also concerned about the appearance of impropriety. When Rep. Tony Rivero invited the lawmaker to join him and others on the Mexico trip, he failed to answer questions as to the source of funding for the trip. As a result, the new lawmaker turned down the offer.
Others jumped at the chance, and the chambers jumped at the chance to tout the trip and reward legislators, who made it possible.
Alongside the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce announcement of the “historic trade mission” was an ad calling on members to “CONTRIBUTE TO THE GREATER PHOENIX CHAMBER OF COMMERCE PAC.”
|Greater PHX Chamber Of Commerce PAC|
|Contributions FROM political committees||11/25/2014 to 11/8/2016|
|Greater PHX Chamber of Commerce Candidate Support Fund||$1,053.40|
|Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Healthy Govt||$1,000.00|
|COX AZ PAC Fund for Effective Leadership||$2,500.00|
|USAA Employee Pac||$1,000.00|
|Cox Political Action Committee||$2,500.00|
|Pinnacle West PAC||$5,000.00|
|Lewis Roca Rothgerber Partners’ PAC||$500.00|
|Southwest Gas AZ PAC||$500.00|
|BOK Financial Corporation PAC||$500.00|
|USAA Employee Pac||$1,000.00|
|Walgreen Co. PAC||$500.00|
|Contributions to other committees||11/25/2014 to 11/8/2016|
|Ducey 2014 – General||$1,500.00|
|Miranda for Senate 2016||$1,000.00|
|Friends of Reginald Bolding||$500.00|
|Drew John for State House – Primary||$1,000.00|
|Regina E.Cobb 2016||$1,000.00|
|Pratt For Arizona 2016||$3,000.00|
|Chip Davis for AZ||$500.00|
|Borelli Senate Committee||$500.00|
|Committee to Elect Mary Hamway||$2,500.00|
|Syms for Arizona||$2,500.00|
|Coleman for AZ||$2,000.00|
|Larkin for Legislature 2016||$250.00|
|Shope for Arizona 2016||$500.00|
|Committee to Elect Sylvia Allen 2016||$1,000.00|
|Kate Brophy McGee AZ||$3,000.00|
|David Cook 4 Office||$500.00|
|Deb Stark for Phoenix||$1,000.00|
The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s post pushes the value of NAFTA. For lawmakers like Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, who was an organizer for the trip, NAFTA should be a dirty word. NAFTA is soundly opposed by her Democratic base. The fact that she not only went on a mission in support of the union crushing treaty, her trip was funded by mega-corporations, who are thriving from the cheap labor NAFTA created.
Aside from problems with NAFTA, Gabaldón’s husband Arturo, “has been with Community Water Company since August 1990, when he began as the Controller. He was promoted in December 2003 to General Manager and on April 2006 was elected to the Board of Directors and serves as President.” Community Water Company is regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission.
It is quite possible that the money Rep. Gabaldon and others receive from the mega-corps and chambers will make it will make it possible for her to fight off any challengers in the future. However, as progressive and conservative grassroots become more aware of the influence of money on their elected leaders and are pushing back against “establishment” candidates, lawmakers like Gabaldon and Rivero could be in trouble.
What are we watching?
Critics say that there are some good arguments that can be made for good trade relations with Mexico. They also support the legislators’ effort to do what they ethically can to promote good trade relations. However they argue that when a regulated utility company, who’s sole source of revenue is rate payer dollars, wine and dine officials and sponsor junket activities for a commissioner, who votes to determine what rate payers pay for their utilities, there is a problem. Regulators should be as far removed from this type of activity as possible.
To many Capitol watchers, Tobin’s Academy is unnecessary. New legislators have been trained by House and Senate staff and leadership for years. The Academy simply seems to be one more way to get skewed information to legislators before their decision making begins.
Show me the money
In 2016, the Arizona Legislature lowered the conflict of interest standards. At the time, Tobin’s son’s employment would have made the elder Tobin ineligible to serve on the Commission. Yet, Tobin’s conflicts continue to get deeper and deeper as he engages in questionable activities.
He is too close for comfort to APS, SRP, Cornman Tweedy and now a legislator with a family member who is an executive of a water company that appears before and is regulated by the ACC, for most people.
The truth of the matter say critics is that Tobin needs the utility- legislative connection in order to attract utility and other contributors to “his” activities. Because no one to date is willing to provide information as to his compensation (and especially if he ends up with a $100,000.00 annual salary) one has to question where is his loyalties lie when utilities come before him for rate increases (APS just last month), or something like the transfer of a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CC&N) currently held by Arizona Water to Cornman Tweedy.
Since taking over the Commission, Forese and Tobin appear to have turned it something akin to the Legislature from whence they came. Even talk of economic development as a priority of the Commission flies in the face of its charter as a regulatory body with responsibility to the rate payers.
Eventually, unless Tobin and his cohorts have created an elaborate mechanism that is exempt from disclosure laws, the ADI or other news organizations will get the public documents to which the public is entitled.
Until then, the cloud formation over the Arizona Corporation Commission, Arizona legislators, and our public utilities will grow and the public’s trust will continue to diminish.