Less than a week before the election for his seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission, Republican Commissioner Andy Tobin has been caught soliciting donations for a side job that he would do alongside his work at the ACC. Tobin’s solicitation calls into serious question whether regulated companies like Arizona Public Service could try to curry favor with Tobin via a donation to fund his moonlighting.
Although Tobin’s current job as Commissioner pays $80,000 per year plus travel, and taxpayers pay for his two full-time staffers, Mr. Tobin is looking to raise $332,000 to fund a “Legislative Affairs Institute at Arizona State University.” Via ASU’s Foundation, funders for the non-profit Legislative Affairs Institute can remain secret. The Institute’s purpose, according to Commissioner Tobin, would be to “educate lawmakers.”
Former four-term Republican lawmaker and Gubernatorial Chief of Staff Chris Herstam was incredulous, saying that Tobin’s price tag for the venture “blew his mind.” Herstam said that in the 1990’s, ASU’s Morrison Institute would provide an overview of the state’s pressing issues to lawmakers for free, not allow lobbyists to provide education and meals.
The program, Tobin wrote, is “based on my training and schedule that I prepared over the years at the Arizona Capital [sic].” Tobin was a four-term Arizona legislator and House Speaker before his appointment to the ACC by Gov. Doug Ducey.
This isn’t Tobin’s first foray into playing fast and loose with ethics as a state official. In 2014, Tobin was one of 14 Arizona lawmakers investigated for accepting gifts from lobbyists for the Fiesta Bowl, which was prohibited by law. The Fiesta Bowl wanted reimbursement for nearly $3,000 it spent for Tobin to attend a football game in Dallas.
Tobin’s fundraising pitch also suggests accompanying legislators to “educate” them on trips to places like the Grand Canyon and Washington, D.C., Roberts reports. He even explicitly offered donors the chance to confidentially suggest topics of conversation with legislators.
Tobin defended himself in comments in the Yellow Sheet:
“We try to get these lawmakers away so they can build relationships with each other,” [Tobin] said, adding that his program won’t be a way for lobbyists to buy access to lawmakers but for lawmakers to hear from experts from a variety of industries and gain necessary knowledge to hit the ground running.
Tobin’s play for a side job is much more disturbing because it opens yet another channel of potential influence for Arizona’s largest electric monopoly, APS. There are close ties between APS and ASU’s Foundation. In 2013, the ASU Foundation accepted $181,000 from Arizona Public Service’s Foundation, and that same year donated $100,000 to a dark money group that worked to defeat pro-solar candidates for the 2014 Corporation Commission race, as Roberts reports.
And oh yes: the ASU Foundation is chaired by Bill Post, the former chairman and chief executive of APS’ parent company, Pinnacle West Corporation.
Tobin faces a general election on Tuesday against four other candidates for three ACC seats: Republicans Bob Burns and Boyd Dunn, and Democrats Bill Mundell and Tom Chabin.