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APS parent was largest donor to federal campaigns in Arizona last cycle

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WASHINGTON – Pinnacle West Capital and its employees were the largest non-party contributors to federal candidates in Arizona in the last election cycle, giving $187,783 to House and Senate candidates in the 2014 midterm election cycle.

Only the Democratic and Republican parties gave more than Pinnacle West, the parent company of the Arizona Public Service Co., according to analyses of Federal Election Commission reports by the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Although it contributed more money to Republicans, Pinnacle West gave to both Democratic and GOP candidates, according to the reports, sometimes giving to opposing candidates in the same race.

The company’s political action committee gave to Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Martha McSally in the 2nd District, for example, and to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Wendy Rogers in the 9th District.

The company also donated to both Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, even though neither one was up for re-election last year. It gave in all nine congressional districts in the state, winding up in the top five donors in five of those districts.

The federal spending was just a fraction of the company’s total political expenditures in the last election cycle. It reported giving more than $1.5 million to state campaigns and to national political groups, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office and the company’s own website.

But it’s not surprising that a company would want to cover its bases by spreading the money around that way, experts said.

“This pattern of giving to the Ds and the Rs means they are not ideologically driven, it means they are interested in a policy outcome that benefits the company itself,” said Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

“It is not unusual to support one candidate, but then once they realize the candidate is going to lose, then throw their support behind the winner,” Bender said. “This is not politics. They want a seat at the table, one way or another.”

A spokesman for Pinnacle West said the company has always supported those candidates who embody its values and ideals.

“While, we don’t discuss individual contributions, we have always been active politically,” Pinnacle West spokesman Alan Bunnell said in an emailed statement. “In general, we support candidates of both parties and organizations that are pro-business and who support a sustainable energy future for Arizona.

Our policy that we have published on our website speaks for itself,” his statement said.

APS is the largest electric utility and energy company in the state, providing electricity to more than 1.2 million Arizonans, including two-thirds of the Phoenix metro area. It had earnings of $447 million in in 2014, according to Bloomberg.

Bender said Pinnacle West has been particularly transparent with its campaign giving. He and others said there is nothing unusual about a corporation using campaign donations to shape policy that could benefit its bottom line.

“They have not been very supportive of the EPA’s attempts to curb emissions in the past couple of years,” Center for Responsive Politics spokeswoman Viveca Novak said of Pinnacle West. “They’re interested in the grid act, in cyber security and in the regulations targeting carbon emissions in general.”

Bender agreed that Pinnacle West officials “obviously have some policy fight going on somewhere in the state and want a place at the table.”

“There are different ways of currying favor and building capital in the political world,” he said. “This isn’t high school. This is about big money and protecting bottom lines.”