Stacey Champion: What does APS head honcho Don Brandt have to hide?

July 29, 2019 12:35 pm

Pinnacle West and APS CEO Donald Brandt. Screenshot via YouTube

More than a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt said, “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.” 

It is for this reason that I have been advocating, without pay or financial benefit, on behalf of the thousands of Arizona Public Service (APS) captive ratepayers, many of whom are our most vulnerable citizens, for the past 19 months. More than 8,000 people joined me in signing a petition over the unjust APS rate hike, and many of those people have also contributed to the crowd-sourced legal fund for my attorney fees.

During this time, I – along with the general public – have learned about APS/Pinnacle West political and dark money spending, as well as strategies to smear the reputations of the candidates they (APS) did not want to win, including those in charge of regulating the utility monopoly. 

I have learned about the rubber stamped 2017 APS rate hike shell game which led to astronomical profits for APS/Pinnacle West in the first quarter of 2019, with some captive customers seeing up to a 95% increase on their bills. 

I have seen the devastation caused to the family of Stephanie Pullman, who lost her life after APS shut off her power on a 107-degree day because she still owed $51 on her bill. I have seen two additional shutoff deaths be admitted by APS only after the Pullman story broke, both of which included settlements between APS and the families. 

At the helm of this ship is Don Brandt, the CEO of both APS and Pinnacle West. Brandt, who has refused to do media interviews. Brandt, who has not publicly spoken about (or apologized for) the deaths he knows his company has caused and/or directly contributed to. Brandt, who has to be threatened with a possible subpoena to answer questions before the governing body who regulates the utility monopoly he runs. 

And yet, Mr. Brandt miraculously finds the time in his busy schedule to take part in every earnings call with shareholders and receive awards. 

As an Arizona resident for more than 20 years, I agree with Cindy McCain’s observation in a July 27 op-ed in The Arizona Republic that political discourse within our state has become appalling. The many millions of dollars Don Brandt has authorized with the blessing of APS/Pinnacle West to spend on numerous campaigns and initiatives with dark money and dirty mud-slinging tactics has absolutely degraded our political democracy.

Speaking of democracy and First Amendment rights, I’m confused as to how our June 20 protest of an Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry awards ceremony honoring Brandt was perceived as “a dangerous scene outside the reception hall.” I’m a 5’5”, 112-pound middle-aged mom. We were located on a public sidewalk, hundreds of feet away from the entrance. We were there to seek answers and accountability for the death of a senior woman. 

The Arizona Corporation Commissioners have questions about Ms. Pullman’s death also, which is why they’ve asked Mr. Brandt to appear before them on Aug. 7.

Facts speak for themselves. APS is our state’s largest utility monopoly. They’ve spent millions on political campaigns. At least three APS customers we know of have died after having power shut off in hot weather months. APS utility shutoffs increased by nearly 50% in 2018, the first full year following the rate hike. APS is ranked at the bottom of the Southwestern utility barrel when it comes to customer satisfaction. 

Brandt is paid more than $1 million per month in salary. APS shareholders have seen a large windfall, while vulnerable Arizona residents have suffered the consequences of an unchecked utility monopoly’s greed. 

Abe Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of, the tree is the real thing.” If I were on the board of Pinnacle West, I would be asking why the Arizona elite feels the need to be penning op-eds stating their leader is a “good and decent man.”

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Stacey Champion

Stacey Champion is Phoenix resident, consumer advocate, owner of Champion PR + Consulting and creator of You can follow her on Twitter @ChampPR.