Attorney General files to remove Bitter Smith from office

Attorney General Mark Brnovich Nov. 30 filed a Petition for Special Action to remove Arizona Corporation Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith from office.

Susan Bitter Smith (photo by Arizona Corporation Commission)

Susan Bitter Smith (photo by Arizona Corporation Commission)

The Petition filed in the Arizona Supreme Court is the result of an ongoing investigation regarding an alleged violation of a conflict of interest statute, according to a press release. The Attorney General’s Office alleges Ms. Bitter Smith is ineligible to hold office because of her conflict of interest as a registered lobbyist and executive for a trade association of cable companies regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

“Arizonans deserve fair and impartial regulators,” stated Attorney General Mark Brnovich, in the release. “We filed this case today to protect the integrity of the Commission and to restore the faith of Arizona voters in the electoral process. Arizona law clearly prohibits a Commissioner from receiving substantial compensation from companies regulated by the Commission.”

On Sept. 2, the Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into Ms. Bitter Smith after receiving a formal complaint against her, the release stated. The AGO investigation found Ms. Bitter Smith receives over $150,000 per year for her trade association work, on top of her $79,500 salary as a commissioner.

Arizona State Statute 40-101 prohibits commissioners from being employed by or holding an official relationship to companies regulated by the commission. The law also prohibits commissioners from having a financial interest in regulated companies. Section 40-101 promotes ethics in government and prevents conflicts of interest.

Ms. Bitter Smith is the executive director and designated lobbyist for the Southwest Cable Communications Association, a trade association for cable companies in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.

She is also registered as a lobbyist for two affiliates of Cox Communications. The other members of the trade association regulated by the commission are affiliates of Comcast, Suddenlink, and Time Warner. Ms. Bitter Smith’s salary constitutes 40-percent of SWCCA’s budget. She works as a “CEO” over all of SWCCA’s operational aspects and as its designated and only lobbyist.

The commission regulates many public utilities in Arizona, including local telephone providers. Because cable companies or their affiliates offer telephone service, often as part of a “bundle” with television and Internet, they are regulated by the commission.

Commissioners are representatives of the people, elected to office with specific constitutional and statutory duties. They must be free of conflicts both at the point of election and during tenure in office, the release stated.

Ms. Bitter Smith’s conflicts existed at the time of her election in 2012 and continue to exist today, therefore, she cannot remedy them and must be removed from office.

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