Power Trips
U.S. Senator John McCain ought to have a word with his colleague from that other A-state, Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska. Murkowski is vacuuming up cash on the campaign-finance crusader's home turf.

An article by Ken Silverstein in the latest issue of Mother Jones reports that Murkowski has benefited from the coffers of Arizona homeboy Richard Snell, head of Pinnacle West, which owns a little concern called Arizona Public Service Company. According to MoJo, Snell threw an intimate fund raiser at his house last year which raised $17,250 for Murkowski's 1998 reelection campaign; $11,000 of that came from contributors linked to APS and Pinnacle West, including $1,500 from Snell and his wife. (The event was co-sponsored by Salt River Project, which gave $1,000 to the senator.)

Purely by coincidence, Murkowski has also come out at the forefront of an issue near and dear to the hearts of the owners and operators of private utilities--tax-exempt financing. Murkowkski is leading the charge to keep public utilities from issuing tax-exempt bonds in the brave, new, deregulated world. Public utilities such as SRP can use the bonds to raise cash--and private utilities such as APS are worried that in the new deregulated, truly competitive marketplace, that will give the SRPs of the world an unfair advantage.

Fortunately, APS and other private utilities have a "friend" in Murkowski, as a memo from Pinnacle West lobbyist Richard Aiken puts it. Murkowski "put the issue of public power tax-exempt debt on the front burner," the memo notes. Since the Snell fund raiser, Murkowski has worked hard to remove public utilities' ability to raise money with tax-exempt bonds and remove what the Aiken memo calls a "competitive advantage."

And private power needs all the help it can get. Private utilities are a lot more expensive, as a chart attached to the memo makes clear. In Arizona in 1995, APS customers paid 21 percent more than SRP customers. APS says the difference in price is because of the advantages public utilities have--like the tax-free bonds--and because APS services a larger area. APS and SRP have both lowered their rates since the time of the comparison.

Pinnacle West spokesman Paul Reynolds says that while private companies may have an ally in Murkowksi, the public utilities "are no hayseeds in bib overalls. They're going to be just as vigilant in protecting their subsidies as we are in protecting our future."

Reynolds can't say that APS power will one day be as cheap as SRP's is now. But he still believes in the deregulated future. "We plan on being a very able competitor. If everybody's on a level playing field, we have no worries."

Of course, in the deregulated future, everybody's going to have to make big bucks--senators like Murkowski don't come cheap.

McCain's Reform School
And speaking of Humble John McCain. . . . For such an earnest campaign-finance reformer, he's sure been spending a lot of time trolling for cash to fuel his reelection bid.

Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson and GOP spinstress and cult heroine Mary Matalin have flown in; Texas Governor and fellow presidential wanna-be George W. Bush is coming this spring.

But the most bizarre cash fest so far occurred last weekend, when Watergate criminal-cum-radio luminary G. Gordon Liddy hosted a McCain fund raiser at his home at Scottsdale's Gainey Ranch. One would think that Gordy would be skittish about handling campaign cash--the last time he did so, he wound up in prison. But perhaps that's the theme here. McCain and Liddy might regale the pocket-stuffing do with tales of their respective imprisonments--McCain's in a POW camp in North Vietnam, Liddy's as a coverer-upper.

Dem Bones of Contention
Word from political circles is that two notable Dems are testing the patience of their peers.

House Minority Leader Art Hamilton drew ire at the state Capitol last week when he cut a school finance deal behind his party's back.

And Rick DeGraw, former Eddie Basha campaigner and current administrator with Maricopa Community Colleges, is annoying observers by continuing to pull down his full-time, publicly funded paycheck while volunteering lots and lots and lots of hours on multiple political efforts, including the Democrats' coordinated campaign. If such a thing is possible.

Aliens Run Channel 10
The response to last week's cover story "Starship Stupors," which exposed the UFO fakery of self-styled expert Jim Dilettoso, has been heavy. Most of it has come from the UFO community itself, and almost all of it has been positive. Many UFO fans say they're glad to see charlatans like Dilettoso exposed.

But somebody should clue in KSAZ Channel 10.
Sunday, on the Fox affiliate's cute "10-Files" segment, the station once again touted the "scientific analysis" of Dilettoso.

Excitedly claiming that his station had a first, anchor Troy Hayden introduced Dilettoso's "close-up" of one of the Phoenix Lights of March 13, 1997.

"Jim Dilettoso is a UFO buff and special-effects designer who worked on the smash film Titanic," Hayden gushed.

Apparently, Channel 10 failed to make a single call to Digital Domain, the company responsible for Titanic's special effects. If it had, it would have learned what New Times reported last week: Dilettoso had nothing to do with the film.

Hayden admits that he took Dilettoso's word for his Titanic work and a lot more. But that's the nature of "10-Files," he says: "You know, we never put anything on the air and say, 'Hey, this is fact.' It's for the X-Files audience."

For its abysmal reportage and perpetuation of pseudo-science, Channel 10 hereby earns a coveted Bill Close Award. The award is bestowed periodically in the name of retired Phoenix anchor fossil Bill Close, and is given to broadcast journalists who go beside and beyond the call of duty.

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