Arizona's two big electric companies are also big political players. Executives, employees and political committees affiliated with Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service Company contribute significant dollars not only to state candidates but to national political figures as well. The utilities' interests go beyond deregulation and power rates; they're two of the state's biggest businesses and biggest property owners with a keen eye toward taxes, business rules, growth and workplace issues. They're often the largest employer in a small town, and their workers hold local office, chair civic committees and contribute heavily to local charities. Candidates love to snag their corporate execs for finance and campaign committees. In 1998, SRP General Manager Richard Silverman served on Governor Jane Hull's finance committee; SRP lobbyists helped host numerous fund raisers.
It's easy to see what candidates get out of the partnership--money and expertise. But what do SRP and APS get? "Easy access at the end of the day," says former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Renz Jennings. A utility honcho "can get on the phone and say 'I've got this issue coming up and I just want you to be sensitive on it.' They know you have to pay to play."
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"When they pony up $25,000 for the west wing of your memorial library, you realize they're the go-to guys. If you want to undertake big things, you want them on your side.