On Thursday, the executive director of the Arizona Corporation Commission, Ted Vogt, was forced to resign after commissioners alleged a conflict-of-interest. Commissioners claimed that his lobbyist wife’s indirect work for Arizona Public Service (APS) created a conflict for him.
Vogt’s wife, Annie, works for the lobbying firm, Veridus, which just so happens to represent APS and its parent company, Pinnacle West. Most recently, Veridus was hired by APS to fight a ballot initiative that would require all utilities to generate half their power from renewables by 2030 (and would not allow Palo Verde’s power generation to count towards that total).
Remarkably, commissioners claim they did not know about Annie Vogt’s job until the lobbying firm had already been working on behalf of APS for months. Commission Chairman Tom Forese, grandstanding in a letter to Vogt, claimed that Vogt had been hired by the Commission to rehabilitate “the structure, administration and image” of the Commission. Joining Forese on the letter was his primary running mate and fellow Commissioner Justin Olson.
Commissioner Andy Tobin has avoided the issue altogether. He officiated the wedding of Ted and Annie Vogt in October of 2016, which serves as a powerful reminder that everyone involved was very well acquainted and were friends on a personal level, not just a professional one. Forese and Vogt even served in the Legislature together.
All of which raises the question, “Why now?”
The Commissioners knew of Vogt’s alleged conflict of interest, so why did his resignation become such a crisis so suddenly?
There has been some speculation that Forese’s sudden concerns about conflicts-of-interest have less to do with his ethics and more to do with his now adversarial relationship with the Governor. Vogt is well-connected to the 9th Floor and held a senior position early in Ducey’s first term, before moving on to the private sector and then finally to the Corporation Commission. According to sources, Forese was furious that the Governor passed him up this year to fill the Treasurer’s position made vacant by the departure of former Treasurer Jeff DeWit. Forese expected to be picked to fill the position, but in a surprise move, the Governor replaced DeWit with Arizona Board of Regents executive director, Eileen Klein. The Governor’s slight was seen as a major factor in Forese quitting the Treasurer’s race and returning to the Corporation Commission race after promising he was done with the Commission.
While resentment might have been an impetus for Forese, another likely culprit is the upcoming primary election in which he and Commissioner Justin Olson are up for re-election.
Controversy has swirled around the Commission and APS since before the 2014 General Election. That controversy has been stirred through the courts on a regular basis by the watchdog on the Commission, Commissioner Bob Burns. Burns is fighting a battle to force APS to turn over the details of alleged campaign spending on behalf of Commission candidates in 2014. Burns has questioned whether that spending influenced commissioners in advance of their hearing of APS’ rate increase case. Forese has fought Burns at nearly every turn even while his own 2014 campaign and APS’ role as a major benefactor remains the subject of controversy.
Forese’s strange allegiance to APS has been most recently highlighted in his hands off approach to a primary rival, Eric Sloan, who was the Chairman for APS’ Super PAC in the 2016 election. APS entrusted Sloan with $4 Million that was spent to elect Boyd Dunn, Andy Tobin, and Bob Burns (although some observers suspect the pro-Burns spending was because they were sure he would win and wanted to try to mend fences.) Forese has not yet made any issue out of Sloan’s own conflict of interest given Sloan’s exceptionally close relationship with APS, even though it would be an obvious point to be made in that competitive primary.
It appears the public will have to wait for more details to come out in order to be able to determine what prompted the sudden shakeup, but it is clear that the Corporation Commission is a long way from being rehabilitated.