Corporation Commission candidate Sam George is Sam Vagenas with a new name and old tricks

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By running on a ticket with a rich, self-funded candidate, Kelty would get the benefit of running as a team, plus a giant cash infusion. Ostensibly, the money would equalize the playing field in the primary. But because George and Kelty would be running as a team, in reality, the cash would boost her name recognition for the general election. And probably his, too.

Thanks to George's willingness to spend, two Democratic candidates could ultimately enjoy twice the funding of their Republican rivals — courtesy of public money.

Kind of fishy, eh? But the Clean Elections Commission tells me it's totally legal.

"That's not a problem at all," says Mike Becker, the commission's voter-education manager. "The only stipulation that exists is that each candidate has to write a check directly to their vendors" — even if they're collaborating on advertising.

That sounds crazy to me. I don't care that it's legal. It completely violates the spirit of the law. (Or, at least, what we thought was the spirit. Considering that Vagenas/George helped to write the thing, who knows whether these loopholes were intentional?!)

Kelty, to her credit, didn't bite. She tells me that she declined George's offer to run as a team because she was concerned about mixing Clean Elections funding with a privately funded candidate.

So George went out and formed a team with two candidates: Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman. Both former state legislators, he's now a county supervisor in Cochise County. And though they're likable, their biggest plus may be names that would look fabulous on a road sign.

And then Kennedy's backers tried to get Kelty kicked off the ballot.

Records show that a Phoenix voter named Thomas Murphy filed a lawsuit challenging Kelty's petitions. Both Murphy and the lawyer handling the suit, Tucson attorney David Karnas, have donated the maximum amount permissible to Sandra Kennedy's campaign.

Karnas initially took my call and told me that he didn't know Murphy personally — and that he, Karnas, had no ax to grind in the race. He says Murphy contacted his firm only because he specializes in this type of work.

So why did Murphy file the suit, I asked. "He is politically, philosophically, and legally opposed to Kara Kelty," Karnas said. Yikes. When pressed, Karnas promised to contact his client to find out more.

Before we could reconnect, I discovered something interesting: Karnas has a history with Sandra Kennedy's campaign manager, Steve Brittle. In fact, Karnas filed more than 90 lawsuits on Brittle's behalf, according to a long-ago profile in the Phoenix Business Journal.

When I called Karnas back with that information, he didn't return my calls.

For the record, Sandra Kennedy says she knows absolutely nothing about this and had no idea that her campaign manager had a history of working with the lawyer who filed the suit against her opponent.

Regardless, the suit has been dropped. As Karnas admits, the challengers realized that even if all the "questionable" petitions were thrown out, Kelty would still have enough signatures to make the ballot.

What, they couldn't figure that out before filing their suit? I have to wonder whether they were hoping Kelty would just roll over and go back to Flagstaff, where the weather is nice.

Instead, she got Andy Gordon, of the super-connected Democratic firm Coppersmith Gordon Schermer & Brockelman, to take the case pro bono.

That makes me think there are other Democrats who aren't so thrilled about this kind of chicanery. That's a really good thing.

Since they couldn't kick Kara Kelty off the ballot, it's unclear whether Sam Vagenas/Samuel George can still execute his plan to triple his Clean Elections funding for his "team." After all, it's not just his team in the race — Kelty will also get an infusion of cash if George spends wildly.

One of these four candidates is not going to make it to the general election.

Presidential politics aside, there's no election more important to Arizona this fall than the three seats being contested on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

You can blame Al Gore for that. Now that "climate change" is a global buzzword, everyone is in a tizzy to do something to stop carbon emissions. And, as any realist will tell, the power to do something is largely not in the hands of individuals. Whether or not you believe in global warming, it's an undeniable fact: If we're serious about reducing carbon emissions, we've got to reduce our reliance on coal-burning power plants.

The corporation commission, despite being composed of Republicans ostensibly less inclined to do something, heard the siren call. They enacted rules mandating that Arizona utilities derive at least 15 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2025.

That's going to cost consumers, unquestionably. APS has already slapped a surcharge onto its customers' bills; other utilities are sure to follow.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske