CoxFriendDigitalAgeBefore we begin, let’s brush up on the definition of “conflict of interest”…ok?

DefineConflictOfInterestGoogleNow that we got that covered, let’s go to Arizona where we find a rather sad story of a situation that quite frankly defines “conflict of interest”. In Arizona, a telephone line (or land line) is regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC).

As KJZZ in Arizona notes:

The commission’s role is so important that, in order to protect its powers and independence, it is established by the Arizona Constitution, rather than state statute, and its five commissioners are elected, rather than appointed.

Essentially, these commissioners have a tremendous amount of power over a substantial portion of the state’s telecom infrastructure. This means that those who become commissioners must stay far away from conflict of interest questions. In the past, the Arizona Supreme Court has even removed a commissioner for having such a conflict of interest (due to the commissioner having a state-issued license to sell securities on election day).

Today, ACC Susan Bitter Smith is being questioned about her rather obvious conflict of interest. She is currently a registered lobbyist for Cox Communications. She is a lobbyist for a company who uses the very same land lines that Smith is supposed to regulate while serving on the ACC.

But we are not done.

In addition to her lobbyist registration for Cox, records show Bitter Smith also heads a trade group for cable companies, whose employees sit on her board of directors and approve her annual salary. Bitter Smith has also voted on matters such as tariff increases and removing bond requirements for the telephone side of some of her members. – KJZZ

When confronted with this question of conflict by KJZZ, Smith responded by claiming that there was no “nexus” between Cox and the Commission. You see, according to Smith, even though she is listed as a “lobbyist” with Cox, she doesn’t receive anything outright from them. She is correct. What she leaves out is that she serves as the executive director of the Southwest Cable Communications Association, a cable industry trade group. Cox is therefore one of her members and her association sponsors events and lunches where Cox employees are invited and attend. When her salary is decided by the cable association, Cox employees are on the board that makes such a decision.

Cox responded by claiming that they only listed Smith as a “lobbyist” for the purpose of being “transparent.” Sure, things may tangle…,just not that much:

“The government work she does that may involve Cox is only in her capacity as the executive director of the cable association—no additional issues.” – Cox spokesperson Andrea Katsenes, KJZZ

Listen, even though Smith makes $140,000 per year from the cable association and even though her salary makes up 40% of the cable association’s yearly budget, we need to give her a break. They really are two completely distinct things.