PHOENIX — Editor's Note: Since this story was published, Corporation Commissioner Kevin Thompson submitted a response to the complaint filed against him, arguing why he believes his attendance at an industry conference in New York was educational and not a violation of ethics rules. See his response below:
The Arizona Corporation Commission will publicly address an ethics complaint against newly elected Commissioner Kevin Thompson at a public staff meeting next Monday or Tuesday.
That’s according to Commission Chair Jim O’Connor, who made the announcement after a closed-door meeting of commissioners Tuesday.
O’Connor also said Thompson would submit a letter to the commission regarding a trip he took in January.
Thompson personally met with utility investors
As 12News reported last month, Thompson is under scrutiny after he traveled to New York in January to personally meet with financial investors whose interests are directly impacted by the commission’s decisions.
A prominent consumer advocate who filed the complaint alleges the trip should disqualify Thompson from ruling on future matters related to utilities like APS. Thompson denies he did anything unethical.
“This is a totally improper ex parte communication”
The state’s five commissioners are expected to act as judges on cases involving Arizona businesses, securities and utilities.
Valley trial attorney Tom Ryan, who often speaks out on ethical issues, told 12News Tuesday he believes Thompson’s actions amount to a “violation of his oath of office.”
“This is a totally improper ex parte communication,” Ryan said. “We need to know who paid for his trip? Who paid for his hotel and meals? Who set the meeting up? There’s a lot of material here that’s not out in the public and we have a right to know.”
Corporation Commission leadership won’t answer questions
The commission’s Executive Director and Chief Counsel have declined to answer questions to 12News regarding the trip and how the ethics complaint will be handled. Meanwhile, Thompson has voted on at least three matters related to APS since taking the trip.
Ryan said the commission should immediately order an ethics investigation and refer the matter for a criminal investigation.
“We have a right to know if he votes on a rate case whether or not someone in essence, bribed him, because that’s what happens if someone else paid for this,” Ryan said. He compared Thompson’s private meetings to a judge in a civil case deciding to meet privately with one of the parties.
“He absolutely should recuse himself from future cases involving the utilities,” Ryan said.
Thompson filed a response to the ethics complaint which can be read below:
“Amen brotha,” Myers wrote
On January 21, Thompson posted on social media that he met with nine utility stockholders and investment banking service providers, including Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America.
"I spent two days this past week in NY meeting with financial institutions that invest in Arizona's utilities,” Thompson wrote.
"My purpose was to let them know that Arizona is a great place in which to invest, and that the Arizona Corporation Commission is no longer going to allow the regulatory environment in Arizona to be dead last in the nation."
Nick Myers, also new to the Commission, commented on Thompson’s post.
“Amen brotha,” Myers wrote.
Thompson says he didn’t violate rules
Last month, Thompson told 12News he believes he acted ethically.
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. Our attorneys reviewed the ethics rules and forwarded it to the commissioners and they will look at that tomorrow (Thursday.) As of right now, I haven’t violated any of the Corporation Commission’s ethics rules,” Thompson said.
Consumer advocate Abhay Padgaonkar, whose activism has prompted reforms in the past, requested that ACC Chief Counsel Robin Mitchell investigate Thompson and make the findings public.
“What I expect from commissioners is to set just and reasonable rates, not go to New York and tell utility stock owners that he has their back,” Padgaonkar said.
Thompson is expected to rule on rate increases for APS, TEP
According to the Commission’s Code of Ethics, Rule 5.2 states, “A Commissioner shall not knowingly communicate with any person, representing an industry or public service corporation whose interests will be affected by commission decisions, and whose intent is to influence any decision, legislation, policy, or rulemaking unless that person has registered as a lobbyist.”
Thompson does not dispute he met directly with people not registered as lobbyists representing industries that benefit from his decisions. Thompson said he believes it’s his “job to reassure there’s regulatory stability in Arizona.”
Thompson will be expected to rule on rate cases involving APS and TEP this year.
The most recent federal data shows APS charged its customers an average of 23% more per kilowatt in 2021 compared to SRP customers.
According to a recent filing by the Residential Utility Consumer Organization (RUCO), APS is seeking from the commission an $895 million increase in revenue, amounting to an average 26% increase on utility bills.
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