Arizona Corporation Commission Adopts Milestone Code of Ethics, Including a Lobbyist Registration Requirement

by Michael W. Patten

After a year of development, including workshops and public input, the Arizona Corporation Commission has adopted its first Code of Ethics. The Commission believes that its new Code is the most comprehensive in the country for utility regulatory bodies.

As a constitutionally-created branch of Arizona government, the ACC acts in both quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative roles in its oversight of public utilities.  This dual role required a blending of ethical considerations related to both judges and legislators.  The Code approved by the Commission includes eight sections: 1. General Ethical Duties; 2. Proper Performance of Commissioner Duties; 3. Prohibition on Harassment; 4. Avoiding Conflict of Interest; 5. Disclosure; 6. Public Access to Information; 7. Ethics Officer; and 8. Enforcement.

Although the Code is primarily directed to the Commissioners and Commission staff, the Code includes a few provisions that may directly impact persons interacting with the Commission and staff.  In particular, the Code will require a person to be registered with the Commission as a lobbyist if the person whose interests will be affected by Commission decisions wants to communicate with a Commissioner “to influence any decision, legislation, policy or rulemaking within the Commission’s jurisdiction.”  The registration requirement will not apply to “individuals representing themselves, subject matter experts or other persons who answer technical questions or who provide technical information at the request of a Commission lobbyist, or licensed attorneys whose primary purpose in communicating with a Commissioner is to advocate on behalf of a party in the course of Commission proceedings.”  This registration requirement is a parallel requirement to any other lobbyist registration and applies even if a person has registered as a lobbyist with the Arizona Secretary of State.  The registration process, however, does not supersede the Commission’s Ex Parte Rule, which precludes any communication with a Commissioner concerning the substantive merits of a contested proceeding once that proceeding is set for hearing.  See Ariz. Admin. Code R14-3-113.

Several issues remain regarding the lobbyist registration requirement.  First, the Commission has not yet developed its lobbyist registration process and it is not clear when it will do so.  Second, it is not clear when the Commission will begin to enforce the lobbyist registration requirement.   Third, at the open meeting adopting the Code of Ethics, the Commissioners indicated a desire to require attorneys to register, provided that such registration does not interfere with an attorney’s ethical obligations.  The Commission may address that issue in the near future.

The approved version of the Code of Ethics will eventually be posted on the Commission’s website (http://azcc.gov/).  The Commission lobbyist registration materials also should be posted on the website once they are created.  Further information about the Code of Ethics can be found in Docket No. AU-00000E-17-0079 on the Commission’s electronic docket (http://edocket.azcc.gov/).

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