Bitter Smith and Burns show a lack of basic understanding of the 1st amendment

Lobbyist Susan Bitter Smith is under fire for her conflict of interest on the Arizona Corporation Commission. She recently teamed up with Bob Burns to author an incoherent letter about political donations and campaign free speech. Was Bitter Smith’s intent to skirt her own conflicts with corporate money and regulation by authoring the letter?

The letter states that “At this time, we want to make it clear that we view it as unacceptable and inappropriate for public service corporations or others to make campaign contributions in support of or in opposition to any candidate for the Corporation Commission. This behavior has the strong potential to diminish the integrity of the Commission and to engender public doubt as to the Commission’s ability to discharge its regulatory responsibilities in a fair and unbiased way.”

In commenting on this statement, where to begin?

First, Ms. Bitter Smith if you don’t want to cast a cloud of doubt on the commission, don’t be an industry lobbyist while also serving as a regulator. We have anti-corruption laws and rules that apply to conflicts of interest for our elected officials. Keeping those rules and moving beyond suspicion is the responsibility of elected officials, not donors or groups who organize under the 1st amendment. Public officials’ reputations are their responsibility!

Second, telling “others” that they can’t speak up, inform, or make contributions because it raises questions about your integrity is not the best way to convince others that you have it. Silencing outside voices actually makes it look like you have something to hide. By allowing the marketplace of ideas to work, you show voters they are intelligent and worthy of hearing all the information. By doing what you think is right, voters will decide if your choices were in line with their values and decide if they want to reelect you. Telling all voters and organizations that they don’t have a right to speak up or persuade voters, while also keeping your ability to draw public funds for your personal campaigns show how disingenuous your motivations are.

We live in a  representative government, where organizations and individuals will always have the first amendment right to speak out, donate, or advocate for their beliefs, values, and interests. When did the Corporation Commission become the first amendment police? The rights of solar companies, APS, or the individuals who donate clean elections money to the commissioners are enshrined in state and federal law.

Telling individuals and organizations not to advocate for what they believe in is not the role of the Corporation Commission. Consider this scenario, can you imagine elected officials like Burns and Bitter Smith telling their donors they can’t weigh in on their power rates going up? Can you imagine Burns and Bitter Smith telling their donors that they can’t file statements of incorporation with the Commission because they donated? I’m certain that the politician Burns and lobbyist Bitter Smith are not asking their donors to stop giving them money for their elections. In other words, Burns in search of his elected official retirement pension, and Bitter Smith a current lobbyist on the commission aren’t willing to relinquish the money they receive in their own interest but they want you, the public to know that they are asking YOU to not weigh in with your opinions because people will start to question their motivations. I think the public can see pretty clearly the truth of the old line “Methinks thou doth protest too much.”

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