Watchdog group wants federal probe of Arizona Corporation Commissioner

The Public Integrity Alliance (PIA) filed a federal complaint on Thursday with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), calling for an investigation of Arizona Corporation Commissioner (AZCC) Susan Bitter Smith.


The complaint from the PIA, a conservative nonprofit watchdog organization, wants the DOJ to investigate the activities of Smith for possible violations of federal law. The PIA alleges that Smith has a conflict of interest as a registered lobbyist for Cox Communications Arizona, LLC while serving as a commissioner for the AZCC, which regulates the telecommunications industry in the state.

“Commissioner Bitter Smith concurrently has a lobbying firm called 'Technical Solutions' and is the executive director of an organization called the 'Southwest Cable Communications Association' (SCCA),” PIA President Tyler Montague told Arizona Business Daily. “How can it be possible that somebody who is a paid lobbyist for an entity simultaneously be its chief regulator?"


The SCCA, Montague said, had a board of directors that included Cox Communications and other companies in the telecom industry. It’s a fact that Smith “receives hundreds of thousands of dollars” from the cable association, Montague said.


And since she has allegedly received payment from the very utilities she swore to regulate and because some of her votes as a commissioner have allegedly “resulted in a direct monetary benefit to Southwest Cable Communications Association members, including Cox Communications,” an inquiry by the U.S. Attorney for Arizona must be undertaken now, Montague said.


“If the DOJ determines the law has been violated, then we would encourage a prosecution to the full extent of the law,” Montague said. “Equally, if no laws were broken, then the people should be given the full account of exactly what Commissioner Bitter Smith and Cox Communications have done.”


Montague said the PIA, which most recently helped oust former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne from his position, is “motivated to get to the truth surrounding Ms. Bitter Smith and the allegations for which she is accused.”


The PIA also alleges that Smith violated several sections under federal statute 18 U.S.C., also known as “Honest Services Fraud,” the same law used to successfully prosecute former U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ). In 2013, Renzi was convicted on federal corruption charges.


While Montague calls Smith’s alleged activities worse than Renzi’s, he doesn’t want to see her go to jail like Renzi who currently is serving a three-year sentence in federal prison for his wrongdoing.


Instead, the Mesa-based PIA would like to see Smith cease her lobbying for Cox Communications and resign from the SCCA or resign from the AZCC.


“We have previously asked Commissioner Bitter Smith to do the right thing,” Montague said. “But she refused.”

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