Smoking gun appears, as former employees of Tom Steyer-led campaign come forward

PHOENIX — The controversial ballot proposal tied to California billionaire Tom Steyer is facing increased scrutiny this week after former employees came forward alleging illegal campaign signature quotas.

The ballot proposal, if implemented, would require Arizona’s utilities to obtain half of their energy from renewable sources (not including nuclear) by the year 2030. It has received widespread criticism from the business community and others as a threat to the state’s economy. Critics of the proposal say that it will lead to significantly higher monthly utility bills for families and a burdensome mandate on businesses looking to expand in the region.

The committee overseeing the initiative is in the process of collecting signatures required for it to appear on the November 2018 ballot — but its signature-gathering operation has fallen under a dark cloud of suspicion.

Arizonans for Affordable Electricity (AFAE), an organization fighting the mandate, filed a complaint Wednesday asking the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office to investigate the committee and its signature-gathering vendor after former employees came forward with allegations of impropriety.

AFAE says that it is aware of at least five former employees of FieldWorks, the signature-gathering vendor, who claim that they were wrongfully terminated. (The committee overseeing the ballot proposal paid FieldWorks more than $589,000 in the first quarter of 2018 alone; NextGen Climate Action, another political group tied to Tom Steyer, also provided the committee an in-kind contribution of more than $141,000 that was itemized as petition-gathering assistance though the same vendor.)

The former employees signed declarations confirming that they faced signature-gathering quotas while employed by FieldWorks ranging from 65 to 68 signatures during each eight-hour shift. Those performance standards, AFAE says, are prohibited in Arizona and constitute “yet another example of the initiative campaign and its billionaire benefactor Tom Steyer playing fast and loose with the law.”

“Election fraud is a serious matter, which is why lawmakers and Governor Ducey acted in 2017 to prohibit exactly these kinds of activities on the part of initiative campaigns,” said Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the affordable-energy coalition. “Signature gatherers who know they must meet an established quota in order to keep their job are incentivized to commit fraud.”

The complaint sent to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office is requesting that all signatures gathered by FieldWorks petition-circulators subject to the quota be deemed invalid, a major possible blow to the group’s goal of appearing on the midterm ballot.

The revelation comes less than one month after State Representative Vince Leach and State Senator John Kavanagh expressed concerns about “an alarming interference with the proper functioning of Arizona’s ballot initiative system.” The legislators said that the committee, by flooding the registration system with an excessive number of petition-circulators (“who will never collect a signature”) was “purposely creating a burden on the State.”

State Election Director Eric Spencer subsequently issued a criminal referral to the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for his review of the potential violations.

The committee overseeing the ballot proposal has faced near-constant criticism for its ties to Steyer, a Democratic Party mega-donor who is spearheading a national campaign to impeach President Donald Trump. All of the green-energy committee’s funding so far comes from NextGen Climate Action, another San Francisco-based political group funded by the California billionaire. Arizonans have not contributed a single cent to the effort, according to the newest campaign-finance reports.

The proposal met the disapproval of Arizona lawmakers in recent months, who warn that the mandate would have devastating economic impacts in their districts. A physics professor at Arizona State University also posited that such a mandate would actually make the state more dependent on fossil fuels than it is today without the assistance of nuclear energy, which the proposal excludes.

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Business organizations slam Tom Steyer ballot proposal: “Take your risky scheme somewhere else”

PHOENIX — Three business organizations — Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Arizona Manufacturers Council, and Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce — came out swinging Friday against the controversial ballot proposal tied to Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer.

In a joint statement, Arizona Chamber president Glenn Hamer and AMC executive director Allison Gilbreath said that job creators in the state “strongly reject” the California billionaire’s “risky scheme” that would require utilities in the state to source half of their energy from renewables by 2030.

The organizations shared cost estimates showing that corporate and industrial energy rates would increase more than 100 percent under the proposal. Residential ratepayers in Arizona would suffer from $1,250 in annual billing hikes (on average) as well.

“It would cost jobs and hurt Arizona ratepayers, but Steyer wouldn’t have to live with the consequences,” Hamer and Gilbreath said in the statement. “Steyer should take his radical agenda and head back to California. Arizona is doing just fine without him.”

Todd Sanders, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, concurred.

“This measure, funded by an out-of-state billionaire, has the very real possibility of having a negative impact on Arizona’s businesses and hardworking citizens by dramatically increasing the cost of energy,” Sanders added in another statement released separately. “Arizona’s utility providers have provided residents and businesses with reliable and affordable energy for more than 100 years. This initiative would substantially weaken our economy and we stand firmly against it.”

House Bill 2005 — aimed at protecting ratepayers — was approved by both chambers in the state legislature this week despite a fierce lobbying campaign by the political group tied to Steyer. The legislation was introduced earlier this year by Republican State Representative Vince Leach, who said Thursday that “the consequences of complying with these unrealistic mandates would be catastrophic to Arizona.”

“I’m proud to stand up for Arizonans by standing up to California billionaire Tom Steyer,” Leach said.

Passage came after contentious debate in the Arizona Senate.

Republican State Senator Sylvia Allen said that Arizona would be “stuck with the higher costs … [and] higher taxes” associated with Steyer’s proposal if it were adopted, and Republican State Senator Steve Smith agreed with her, saying the language “will cause a constitutional conflict” in the state.

Prior to the full senate vote, the legislation was reviewed by the Senate Government Committee. A government affairs representative from Arizona Public Service explained to the committee members that the ballot proposal would “devastate rural Arizona by closing power plants and killing thousands of jobs” — in addition to risking $38 million in tax revenue for education.

Arizonans for Affordable Electricity launched in February to fight Steyer’s initiative. The organization’s spokesman appeared on television soon after and dismissed the proposal as a “feel-good measure” that would put Arizona’s electricity grid at risk if adopted. A physics professor at Arizona State University similarly criticized Steyer’s effort as “a scam,” arguing that such a mandate could make the state even more dependent on fossil fuels.

State Senator Robert Meza and State Representative César Chávez — Democratic members of the state legislature — recently penned an op-ed in the Arizona Republic announcing their opposition to the ballot proposal.

“How unfair it would be for the rest of us to heap new charges onto their electric bills, forcing seniors and other vulnerable residents to make painful choices between cooling their homes in the summer and other basic necessities?” they wrote. “Arizona families will get stuck paying the bill for generations to come.”

UPDATE: This post has been updated to include the press release from the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

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Tom Steyer ballot proposal crashes and burns in Arizona Senate: “We’ll be stuck with the higher costs … higher taxes”

PHOENIX — The controversial ballot proposal tied to Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer suffered another defeat this week as Arizona lawmakers moved forward on House Bill 2005.

The Arizona State Senate voted Wednesday to approve the legislation, which seeks to establish specific penalties that can be assessed to public service corporations in response to alleged or actual violations.

A political group tied to Steyer, the Democratic donor, frantically lobbied state legislators in the run up to the vote. The group ran paid advertisements on social media throughout the week and published at least 14 tweets during Wednesday’s debate urging lawmakers to vote “no” on the bill.

The group also advocated a “yes” vote on an amendment proposed by Democratic State Senator Juan Mendez, which would have dramatically increased government-reporting requirements on energy companies involved in the public policy process.

Republican State Senator Sonny Borrelli — who introduced the House Bill 2005 striker last week during a contentious hearing before the Senate Government Committee — slammed Mendez’s proposal as a “hostile amendment” intended to derail the legislative process. Democratic State Senator Martin Quezada claimed, “Yes, it may be hostile,” but said that he would support it.

The “hostile” amendment failed on a 12-15 vote. (Republican State Senator Bob Worsley recused himself from the votes under Rule 30.)

Members of the legislature then debated House Bill 2005 more broadly, often invoking the controversial ballot proposal connected to Steyer.

Republican State Senator Sylvia Allen told lawmakers that the ballot proposal would devastate her district’s economy and reminded her colleagues that the legislature would not be able to tweak the proposal if adopted, even if it resulted in harmful or unexpected consequences, because of the Voter Protection Act.

(Click Here To Watch Sylvia Allen’s Testimony.)

“If we ever get in a situation which we wish we could go back, we won’t,” Allen said. “We’ll be stuck with the higher costs of our utilities. And we’ll be stuck with higher taxes.”

Republican State Senator Steve Smith, who supported the legislation, stated that “whatever language may or may not come up by way of a ballot initiative will directly cause a constitutional conflict” in Arizona.

The Arizona State Senate approved the legislation on a 16-12 vote. It now heads to the Arizona State House.

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Controversial ballot proposal faces wrath at senate hearing: “Arizona’s constitution is not for sale”

PHOENIX — A state senate committee hearing got heated Wednesday afternoon as legislators and energy representatives slammed the ballot proposal tied to Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer as an unconstitutional mandate on Arizona families.

Republican State Senator Sonny Borrelli, the chairman of the Senate Government Committee, offered a strike-through amendment to House Bill 2005 earlier this week addressing penalties that can be imposed on public service corporations. The amendment, according to a memo released by the Arizona State Senate research staff, establishes that “the exclusive remedy or penalty assessed to a public service corporation, will be a civil penalty.”

The penalty would pertain to “any alleged or actual violation” of a state constitutional provision or rule originating at the Arizona Corporation Commission regarding electricity generation.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona (CEHA), the political committee tied to Steyer, the Democratic donor, criticized the amendment online as “an illegal scheme to ignore the constitution and voter-approved standards for renewable energy.”

CEHA is pushing a controversial ballot initiative that would require Arizona’s utilities to obtain half of their electricity generation from renewable sources.

The text of the proposal has been widely criticized for excluding nuclear energy from its list of considered “renewable” sources. Arizona is home to the largest nuclear power plant in the United States, and nuclear sources constituent a significant portion of the state’s energy portfolio.

CEHA is concerned that Borrelli’s amendment will threaten its ability to push and enforce its ballot proposal, and the group released advertisements early Wednesday targeting Republican members of the Senate Government Committee, as well as State Senator Kate Brophy McGee.

Brophy McGee quickly swung back at one of the attack ads, saying that she rejects the notion of “California billionaires buying their way into #Arizona and dictating policies that will raise utility rates on families in my district.”

Republican State Representative Vince Leach, who supports the strike-through amendment, was the first member of the legislature to testify before the committee.

“It sends a strong and an unmistakable message to those out-of-state people that want to come in,” he said. “We just tell them: ‘Arizona’s constitution is not for sale.’”

(Click Here To Watch Vince Leach’s Testimony.)

Rod Ross, a senior government affairs representative with Arizona Public Service, asked the committee why Steyer’s group excluded the state’s second-largest utility, Salt River Project, from the ballot text, adding: “It sure seems like they’re objecting to something other than clean energy.”

“We’re concerned that it will devastate rural Arizona by closing power plants and killing thousands of jobs,” Ross explained. “We’re also concerned that it would eliminate at least $38 million in tax revenue that currently flows to K-12 schools and public education.”

(Click Here To Watch Rod Ross’s Testimony.)

Republican State Senator Gail Griffin concurred, saying that the initiative “would be devastating to the cooperatives in [her] district in rural Arizona.”

The committee approved the amendment on a 4-3 vote. It likely will now head to the full senate.

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ASU Professor: Tom Steyer ballot proposal “a scam”

PHOENIX — A professor at Arizona State University is calling the ballot proposal tied to Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer “a scam” that will make the state more dependent on fossil fuels.

Earlier this year, a political group connected to NextGen America — founded by investor-turned-environmentalist Tom Steyer — announced that it would be spearheading a ballot initiative to require the state’s utilities to obtain half of their energy from renewable sources.

But Peter Rez, an Oxford-educated professor in the physics department of Arizona’s largest public university, is now dismissing the initiative as a “scam,” saying that the proposal will actually increase the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“The problem with renewables is that they don’t necessarily generate electricity when people want it,” he said in a recent interview with The State Press. “Either one has to have massive amounts of storage or to be backed up by fast-response gas turbines.”

The ballot language submitted to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office has been roundly criticized for, among other things, excluding nuclear energy from the list of clean energy sources that can be applied toward the 50-percent threshold; nuclear energy — considered by many to be a “cleaner” source of electricity as it pertains to carbon dioxide emissions — comprises a significant portion of energy generation in the state’s portfolio.

“So summing it up, this initiative is a scam,” Professor Rez told the newspaper.

Others have made similar arguments. Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, a coalition fighting against the ballot initiative, recently explained that the proposal would have “no impact on the air quality that we see” in Maricopa County and Pima County because there already are no coal plants in those regions.

But residents in the state would still be forced to pay higher electricity costs — in other words: all pain, no gain.

“We know that, if this is adopted into the Arizona Constitution, it’s going to double the cost of the utility bill for the average Arizona family,” the affordable energy coalition’s spokesman said.

“Arizona is in a good position … And they’re putting that at risk.”

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Tom Steyer Initiative Slammed As “Feel-Good Measure” That Will Put Arizona Electricity Grid “At Risk”

PHOENIX — An affordable energy coalition Thursday slammed the ballot proposal tied to Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer as a “feel-good measure” that will put Arizona’s electricity grid “at risk.”

A spokesman for the coalition, Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, appeared on Arizona PBS’s “Arizona Horizon” Thursday evening to discuss the ballot initiative, which would force the state’s utilities to source half of their energy from “renewables” by 2030.

“We know that, if this is adopted into the Arizona Constitution, it’s going to double the cost of the utility bill for the average Arizona family,” Matthew Benson, the spokesman, said.

Click HERE To Watch The Interview.

That means the average household would pay about $1,000 more per year as a result of the energy tax, he explained, calling it an especially “significant cost” to low- and fixed-income families.

The group behind the ballot proposal is tied to NextGen America, a political organization founded by California Democrat Tom Steyer, the single largest political donor of the 2016 election cycle. Steyer himself is estimated to have spent at least $87 million during that cycle and currently is spearheading a $20 million ad campaign to impeach President Donald Trump.

NextGen Climate Action, the group’s super PAC affiliate, spent more than $29 million in additional funds over the past two cycles with the aim of defeating Republicans.

A spokesman for the Steyer-tied group behind the energy tax cited the “asthma epidemic” as its motivation in February, telling Capitol Media Services that the state has to “get cleaner air to make a dent in that number of asthma sufferers.”

But the affordable electricity coalition was quick to point out that Arizona’s two largest counties aren’t coal producers.

“There’s not a single coal plant in Maricopa County,” Benson said during Thursday’s appearance. “There’s not a coal plant in Pima County … This initiative is going to have no impact on the air quality that we see here in Phoenix or in Tucson. That’s just a fact.”

The text of the ballot initiative, filed with the Secretary of State’s office on February 20, has been criticized for excluding nuclear energy from its 50-percent renewable standard.

Nuclear energy provided about one-third of Arizona’s net energy generation in 2016, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, and the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Maricopa County is the largest nuclear power plant in the country, giving the state a competitive advantage over others in the mountain region.

“Arizona is in a good position,” Benson said Thursday. “We have a strong power system. We have affordable, reliability electricity. And they’re putting that at risk.”

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