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Ted Vogt out as Corp Comm director over conflict of interest

Ted Vogt, a former Tucson lawmaker, was pushed out as executive director of the Arizona Corporation Commission over concerns about a conflict of interest. His wife has been working for a PR firm for Arizona Public Service, a utility regulated by the state panel.

Vogt quit Thursday, after commissioners demanded he resign and set a meeting to discuss the issue.

Annie Vogt, wife of the now-ex top regulatory staffer, has worked for Veridus, a lobbying and PR firm retained by APS to campaign against a ballot initiative that would increase the amount of renewable energy Arizona electric companies much produce.

State law bars ACC commissioners and staffers from having financial interests in companies that are regulated by that body.

Vogt had not informed the commissioners about his wife's employment, which he called "unintentional" in his letter of resignation.

Saying he had only just become "aware of concerns" about the conflict,  Vogt wrote that he "strives at all times through my words and deeds to honorable advise the elected members of this public body."

ACC Chairman Tom Forese and Commissioner Justin Olson said Vogt should resign.

"You were brought into the commission to assist the commissioners with rehabilitating both the structure, administration and image of the commission," Forese told Vogt in a letter earlier this week. "In consideration of the fact that this pecuniary (financial) interest has existed for several months and was not disclosed officially to the commission, I am requesting your immediate resignation as Executive Director of the Arizona Corporation Commission."

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Olson also suggested to Forese that Vogt should resign, and Commissioners Robert Burns and Boyd Duncan also expressed concern to the chairman. Commissioner Andy Tobin did not go on record with comments on the issue.

The Energy and Policy Institute, which promotes renewable energy, said "The commissioners’ letters implied that they learned about the conflict of interest only upon receipt of Vogt’s letter. That explanation could be an effort to protect the commissioners themselves from any political fallout, and to position Forese, long perceived as an ally of APS himself, as a champion of ethics, but it beggars belief: Ted Vogt’s marriage to a senior Veridus employee, and Veridus’ work on behalf of APS, were both well known at the Commission long before this week."

The groups said that Annie Vogt has worked for Veridus since September 2016 — before the ACC's Tobin officiated the Vogt's wedding that October.

Supporters of the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona ballot initiative turned in petitions Thursday to put the issue before voters in November, if enough signatures are certified. The initiative would require Arizona utilities to get half of their electricity from renewable resources, such as solar and wind, by 2030.

The Democratic candidates seeking the pair of seats up for election this year have called the current ACC commissioners "corrupt." The bribery case of a former Republican commissioner, Gary Pierce, is in the hands of a jury.

The Corporation Commission — one of the most powerful elected bodies in the state — regulates utilities and overseas corporations, including setting renewable energy standards for electricity producers.

Vogt was hired as the ACC's executive director in January 2017 by the all-Republican elected commissioners.

In 2015, he stepped down as chief of operations for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, saying he was going to "pursue a new opportunity in the private sector." His then-fiance, Annie Dockendorff, was at the time a spokeswoman for Ducey.

Vogt then spent about year as a lobbyist with the Traversant Group in Phoenix.

Vogt, former Air Force intelligence officer, was the director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services from June 2013 through December 2014 and served in the Arizona House of Representatives from March 2010 through January 2013. He was appointed to the legislature to fill the LD30 seat left vacant when Frank Antenori was bumped up via an appointment to the state Senate. Vogt was reelected later that year, but lost his race in November 2012, after redistricting.

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During his time in the Legislature, Vogt was a member of ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — and voted with the Republican majority for the controversial SB 1070 bill targeting illegal immigration.

The position of Veterans Services director became open in early April, when Joey Strickland resigned after media reports that a newly hired assistant, Terri Proud, said menstrual cycles might be too problematic for women to be in combat.

Proud, a former Republican legislator from Tucson, was fired over the remarks.

More background from the Energy and Policy Institute interest group:

Vogt deleted his Twitter account between July 3, when it was last reviewed by the Energy and Policy Institute, and July 5. But one tweet from June 26 showed Vogt responding to a post from APS lobbyist Chad Guzman criticizing Tom Steyer, one of the supporters of the clean energy initiative, echoing talking points from Veridus.

Ted Vogt’s resignation is the latest shoe to drop for a Commission that has weathered a series of challenges to its integrity since APS allegedly began spending millions of dollars to elect its regulators via dark money groups in 2013 and 2014, a claim it has never confirmed or denied

The FBI investigated whether a recent chairman of the ACC, Gary Pierce, helped protect APS’ monopoly in exchange for APS giving money to his son’s political campaign. A jury is currently deliberating whether Pierce is guilty of bribery in a separate federal corruption case that does not involve APS.

Another commissioner, Susan Bitter-Smith, resigned in 2015 for working a second job for a telecom industry group.

Yet another commissioner, Bob Stump, came under a cloud of scandal over text messages that he allegedly deleted which may have shown communications between him and dark money groups who were attacking solar power. Stump’s term on the ACC ended in 2017, but he announced earlier this week that, after a failed bid for Congress, he would be running a trade association for Arizona’s electric utilities, called the Arizona Energy Policy Group, which filed to intervene in an APS rate case before the ACC.

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Arizona News Service

Ted Vogt, in a 2010 file photo.

ARS 40-101

Interest of commissioner or employee prohibited in corporation subject to regulation

Notwithstanding any other law, a person in the employ of, or holding an official relation to a corporation or person subject to regulation by the commission, or a person owning stocks or bonds of a corporation subject to regulation, or a person who is pecuniarily interested therein, shall not be elected, appointed to, or hold the office of commissioner or be appointed or employed by the commission. If a commissioner, or appointee or employee of the commission becomes the owner of such stocks or bonds, or becomes pecuniarily interested in such a corporation involuntarily, he shall within a reasonable time divest himself of such stocks, bonds or interest. If he fails to do so, he thereby vacates his office or employment.