PHOENIX — Susan Bitter Smith, the chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, broke the state’s conflict of interest laws by working as a lobbyist for companies the commission regulates, an Attorney General’s investigation has found.
The state’s top law enforcement office today filed a special action with the Arizona Supreme Court to have Bitter Smith removed from office.
Arizona law specifically addresses the Corporation Commission, barring them from working for, or having a financial interest in the companies the commission regulates. Bitter Smith worked as a registered lobbyist for telecommunications companies and trade organizations representing telecommunications companies, and received a $150,000 annual salary for her trade association work after taking office.
“They (Corporation Commissioners) must be free of conflicts both at the point of election and during tenure in office,” a written statement from the Attorney General’s office explained, “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.”
At a press conference Monday, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the facts in the case are clear and that he doesn’t see any “gray area.”
“We believe she is ineligible to hold this office,” Brnovich said.
Beau Roysden, senior counsel to the Attorney General’s office said he expects to meet with Supreme Court staff attorneys this week to discuss next steps. Roysden said the Supreme Court will likely give Bitter Smith several weeks to provide a response to the motion. Then, the state’s high court could send the case back to superior court for a more thorough factual review, or the court could act based on the Attorney General’s motion and Bitter Smith’s response, or the court could set oral arguments in the matter.
Brnovich said that if Bitter Smith resigns, the motion for her removal would then be moot, though his office is still conducting a criminal investigation in the same matter, which Brnovich said he could not comment on.
In a written statement, the executive director for the Corporation Commission said Bitter Smith will not resign, and that the commission will operate as usual.
“There will be no delays in the Commission’s deliberations and decision making,” the statement said. “All decisions made between now and the court’s ruling are binding.”